Live Free or Die Movie Review

It never occurred to me that the state motto of New Hampshire might be used as the title of a black comedy, and sure enough this wryly dark flick (tagline: "From 2 of the writers of Seinfeld") is a hit-and-miss proposition.

With the distinct aura of a plot that might have been dreamed up over bong hits, writer/directors Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin cobble together a seriously strange and only ocassionally compelling look at the hero myth, updated for COPS era. Said hero is John "Rugged" Rudgate (Aaron Stanford, best known as Pyro in X-Men 2 and 3), an utter loser whose primary source of income is scraping UPC labels from bottles of gin at the local liquor store and mailing them in for rebates. He fashions himself an outlaw and a gangster, but even his plan to sell trucking school diplomas can't earn much more than beer money. With a wreck of a van and various scams costing more than they bring in, he tries to weasel into the U-Lock storage shed business of old friend Lagrand (Paul Schneider), fashioning himself as an elite security guard.

In trying to prove his credentials, Rugged poisons the well of a local guy who's been bullying him. When the bully dies (though not due to Rugged's actions) things get a little loony as the cops quickly take an interest in his activities.

Surprisingly complicated (that description barely touches the surface), Life Free or Die has Seinfeld's interlocking, complex hallmarks all over it. But what Live Free or Die is lacking that Seinfeld had in spades is simple humor. The movie just isn't very funny, too wrapped up in its wild plot and loser lead character to ever get around to delivering a punch line. In one scene, Rugged and Lagrand decide to bury everything they stole during a hardware store robbery (long story), and the scene of driving, locating a shovel, digging the hole, and filling it in goes on for what must be five minutes. The gag in the end: They aren't in the woods, they're in someone's backyard. It's a long way to go for a joke, and Live Free or Die is full of sequences like this. The movie builds and builds and builds, then slowly deflates, over and over.

The real find here is Schneider, playing a borderline special-needs geek/freak with near perfection. As loathesome as Rugged is, you kind of feel sorry for Lagrand getting caught up in his scheme. Zooey Deschanel makes an all-too-brief appearance as Lagrand's kid sister (actually doing all the work at the U-Lock and the only voice of reason in the movie), and Michael Rapaport's feel-good local cop, worried endlessly about the "check oil" light in the cruiser, is also used to good effect, however limited his part may be.

Kavet and Robin have a knack for dialogue and plotting, but the attempt to make Rugged into a larger-than-life, Paul Bunyan-style hero just never really pays off. A little more attention to laughs and one less plot strand would have made all the difference.

I will say this, however: If nothing else, the movie sure does make New Hampshire look like a deathly, depressing place to live.

The DVD includes an alternate ending, deleted scenes, gag reel, making-of featurette, and a commentary track.

That's freedom.

Cast & Crew

Director : Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin

Producer : Doug Bernheim, Daniel Carey,

Comments

Live Free or Die Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2006

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