July 09, 2007 12:00 PM

Live Free or Die Hard
Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q

PG-13 | [3 stars]
ACTION

In a rare, brief break between beating up ruthless bad guys, NYPD detective John McClane (Willis) is asked why he continues risking his life to be a hero. “Because there’s nobody else to do it right now,” a weary McClane replies. “Believe me, if there was, I’d let them do it.”

He’s right: Nobody does it better. It may be McClane talking, but we in the audience know it could just as well be Willis explaining why, 19 years after the first Die Hard picture and 12 years after the series’ third film (Die Hard with a Vengeance), he’s come swaggering back to yippie-ki-yay butt and save the post-9/11 world. It’s clear that would-be inheritors of his action-hero mantle have fallen woefully short of late.

This time, McClane must protect a geeky computer hacker (a caustic Long) while simultaneously foiling a nefarious security expert (Olyphant) intent on taking over the nation. Cue multiple fiery explosions, gunfire, fistfights and snarky one-liners from McClane (“That’s gonna wake up the neighbors,” he says, upon tossing a bad guy through a car roof). Playing McClane as older, crankier and creakier, Willis puts pungent pop in this popcorn.

Sicko
PG-13 | [3.5 stars]
CRITIC’S CHOICE

DOCUMENTARY

Love him or hate him, you gotta admit Michael Moore is hugely entertaining. Who else besides the provocateur-director could take on the mess that is the current U.S. health-care system and have you laughing one minute and tearing up the next? Moore’s smartest move in Sicko is to focus not on the 44 million Americans who are uninsured, but rather on those with health insurance who have dutifully paid premiums for years, and then—when they need service the most—find their claims denied for seemingly spurious reasons. He contends that medical care should be a right, like education, and that countries with government-sponsored national health services, such as France, England, Canada and Cuba, are on the right track. Moore spends too much time rosily extolling these foreign systems, but when he shows a postpartum French mother having her laundry done for free in her home by a government worker, well, I’d vote for that.

Ratatouille
Voices by Patton Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo | G | [3.5 stars]
CRITIC’S CHOICE

ANIMATED

Parents, take note. Your picky eater may be balking at downing that plate of spinach because he’s a future gourmet chef. That’s certainly true of Remy (at left), a French rat—and the hero of this swell film—who gags when his father bellows, “Shut up and eat your garbage!” Remy (voiced by Oswalt) knows, just knows, that a pinch of saffron or basil would add zing to the foraged scraps his dad and fellow rat packers are devouring. Ratatouille is a delicious delight, brimming with colorful characters, lush animation and, as Remy rises at a chic Parisian restaurant, useful culinary advice. When I asked Fred, 7, my consultant on kids’ films, about the latter, he told me, “I don’t go to movies for learning. I go for the fun-ness.” Ratatouille offers both by the plateful.

Evening
Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Toni Collette, Patrick Wilson | PG-13 | [2 stars]
DRAMA

I wanted to love this one. It features a slew of terrific actresses and is based on Susan Minot’s insightful novel about a dying woman recalling a crucial weekend from her past. But like a bride wearing a heavily beaded dress, Evening is weighed down by literary frippery. Despite valiant efforts by the cast, the characters never spring to full dramatic life as the story shuttles between the present, where a dying woman (Redgrave) is tended to by her adult daughters (Collette and Natasha Richardson, who is Redgrave’s actual daughter), and the past, where she (now played by Danes) falls for a doctor (Wilson) while at the wedding of a rich pal (Gummer). In the end, Evening just becomes a collective flutter of overwrought emotions.

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