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"Die Hard 4" works because of action, not plot

In the same way all those so-called "classic" comedies where the men dress in drag are confusing to those of us versed in crazy nonsense like "Billy Madison" and "Anchorman," where a dude in a skirt might warrant a 10-second scene at best, "Live Free or Die Hard" is on the verge of feeling quaint.

Bruce Willis is a loose-cannon cop who plays by his own rules, you say? Not a guy who can shoot webs from his wrist or owns a Batcave? Oh, you say he fires guns at bad guys who want millions of dollars rather than the power to live as the gods? How interesting. Are you sure he doesn't own a set of tights with his initials sewn onto the chest? Really?

Well, OK, it's not at that point yet. Rogue cops will always be cool. Still, "Die Hard 4" -- it seems a little weird, right?

Having evidently put an end to crime in NYC, Willis opens the movie spying on his daughter's love life down at college. Since he's in the neighborhood, the recently hacked FBI directs him to pick up area computer whiz Justin Long for questioning, but a bunch of cold-eyed terrorists have other ideas involving blowing Long into tiny particles.

After lots and lots of shooting, Willis and Long light out for D.C., where from the start it's clear they're from different worlds. Disregarding the more questionable parts of their generation gap -- as if a guy Long's age wouldn't love Creedence Clearwater Revival after watching "The Big Lebowski" a dozen times -- the two have a few explosion-free moments to drive around and be glad they're not each other.

Only the bad guys have got to D.C., too.

Within the span of minutes, they've used computer networks to cripple transportation across the nation. Once they start in on the communication lines, Long understands they mean to wreck up the nation's entire infrastructure. Cut off from the FBI, it's up to him and Willis to foil the bad guys and restore order to the nation.

The action in "Die Hard 4" is, to put it in a word, awesome. The director seems unconcerned with trying to be even vaguely realistic about all the destruction, and, well, when you're right you're right, because his action sequences are flat-out great. Almost comically ridiculous, yes, but a heck of a lot of fun.

No movie can be two hours of pure fight scenes, though -- or could it? -- and aside from Willis and Long's funny odd-couple shenanigans, the rest of it's not quite as heckishly fun.

The bad dudes' plot feels like it was ripped from a Wikipedia article on cyber-terrorism. Mystical devices called "computers" are used against Willis to make him feel sad and scared. Long and Kevin Smith, in a type-breaking turn as a fat nerd, are able to use anything with a wire in it to solve every dilemma that gets in their way.

In fact, technology's pretty much treated like magic, only instead of staffs the hacker-wizards have laptops, and instead of pointy hats they just don't take showers. Really, it's more baffling than insulting. It's the year 2007. Grandparents use the Internet, for god's sake. Video editing and digging up peoples' personal information isn't exactly frightening when it can be done by anyone with iMovie and Google.

It's not the unrealness that gets me, it's the laziness. It's like the writer's been chained in a basement the last 10 years and still thinks this "inter-net" he's read about is a source of infinite power rather than a repository for porn, news stories about people dying in hilariously stupid ways, and blogs about how the Web used to be so much better before every other link was a YouTube clip.

Unlike some of this summer's billion other retreads, however, "Die Hard 4's" competent enough to show a few signs of life, both in its cast and in the parts where things are kerploding. Is that enough to justify its existence? No, not really. But the world's hardly a worse place now that it's been made.

Grade: C+

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