When director Len Wiseman received the script for "Live Free or Die Hard," the fourth installment in the Bruce Willis action franchise, he suddenly felt like the 15-year-old he'd been when he saw the original in 1988.
"I was obsessed with 'Die Hard' in high school," says Wiseman ("Underworld," "Underworld: Evolution"). "The action was amazing, and the relationship between the good guys was like nothing else I had seen before."
But it was Willis as the wisecracking, reluctant hero, John McClane, who really drew him in. "He was crass and bitter about it," Wiseman says. "He was definitely a hero because of the situation he's thrown into."
In the ultimate fan-boy tribute, the teenage Wiseman gathered his friends and shot his own "Die Hard" movie in his backyard. "It was the first time I graduated to using real squibs [of fake blood]. I was such a geek with all of that."
Who would have guessed that nearly 20 years later Wiseman would get the chance to shoot another of McClane's adventures for the big screen?
In "Live Free," Willis' world-weary police detective faces off against Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a brilliant program designer who plans to cripple the country's computer networks. Adding to McClane's troubles are his squabbles with his college-age daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and his snoozer of an assignment to bring in a young hacker (Justin Long) for questioning by the FBI.
That's when things start to get interesting, if you happen to appreciate things like a police patrol car sailing through the air and crashing into a helicopter or a fistfight within a car dangling precariously inside an elevator shaft.
Unlike the other three "Die Hard" installments, "Live Free" is rated PG-13, so McClane's salty tongue isn't wagging quite so much. But Wiseman, who is married to his "Underworld" star, Kate Beckinsale, says Willis brings much more to the character.
"Working with Bruce, you realize that the wit, the charm and what people really like about John McClane are what Bruce brings to the table; it's not actually on the page. A lot of what he brings to the film is his ad-libs and the way he reacts to the action and the way he's involved in how much punishment he takes in the action sequences."
The film's production schedule was grueling, Wiseman says, leaving little time to wrap before the Wednesday opening date. "I finished it like an hour ago," he says, laughing. "I am going to the premiere tonight, and I hope it's actually done."
-- Susan King