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John McClane is back, and he's . . . old.

Bruce Willis' Det. John McClane begins Live Free or Die Hard by busting a frat boy who's been trying to cop a feel off his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Oh, Dad!

Since much of the ol' action hero's aging core audience has presumably moved on since McClane's last adventure, the main duty this time is to serve and protect the kids. Can we get Kevin Smith to play a "digital Jedi," joysticking for freedom in his mom's basement? Can we say Yippee-ki-yay, muthafucka and still get a PG-13?

Yes, there's a terrorist scheme in the fourth Die Hard. It concerns a spurned patriot's bid to expose the weakness of our hackable homeland security. Better that he bring Armageddon, this white American says, than "some religious nutjob." But the real intrigue has to do with whether McClane -- "a Timex watch in a digital age," according to the lead baddie (Timothy Olyphant) -- can log into 2007.

Maybe McClane, in '80s-action parlance, is too old for this shit. But this time, he's blessed with youth in tow: a twentyish hacker who helped the villains get a virtual leg up before offering his services to McClane in trade for protection. So as the bad guys (including a Demi-esque Maggie Q) plot a nationwide blackout by computer, the digitally challenged McClane mans the old reliables -- pistol, CB radio, various motor vehicles, and what's left of his wit(s) -- while the kid (Mac pitchman Justin Long) does the code-breaking. Would you believe these two don't get along at first? Alas, generational conflict here is reduced to a high-speed feud over the merits of Creedence Clearwater Revival: Driving the getaway car, McClane blasts "Fortunate Son," prompting the kid to declare, "This is like having a pinecone shoved up my ass." (Hello, PG-13!)

Clearly we're far from the original Die Hard (1988), an action flick recently chosen as the best of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Where the first three Die Hards are full-on disaster movies, with towering infernos, crashed airplanes, and Manhattan on red alert, the threat in the post-9/11 installment is virtual. The villains' craftiest trick is hijacking our cable news networks -- tweaking the ticker ("What if you dial 911, and no one answers?") and communicating through split-second snippets of presidential addresses, from Ike through Dubya. And Maggie Q's particular menace can be put down with another PG-13 quip (she's a "little Asian chick, likes to kick people").

The trickiest challenge in Live Free, it turns out, is a familiar one to our listless hero: getting Lucy, like Mom in '88, to go by the last name of McClane. Whatever she decides, Dad is really going to have to live freer or die harder next time.

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More by Rob Nelson


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