Live Free or Die (2006) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language including sex references, and mild violence
Running Time: 89 min.
Cast: Aaron Stanford, Paul Schneider, Kevin Dunn, Michael Rapaport, Zooey Deschanel, Eban Moss-Bachrach, Judah Friedlander, Peter Anthony Tambakis
Director: Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin
Screenplay: Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin
Aaron Stanford (X2, Rick) stars as John 'Rugged' Rudgate, a pipsqueak with big-time aspirations to be the kind of guy that inspires fear, with a reputation for being the town badass. He resorts to a life of crime, although petty, but he talks like he's into lots of deeper things underground. His latest venture involves selling stolen speakers out of his van, which is quickly tipped off to the local cops. The only people dumb enough to believe his wild claims are any who are dumber than him, including the woefully-deficient mentality of Lagrand (Schneider, The Family Stone), who soon becomes his partner in crime. A series of circumstances lead them to think they might be up for a murder rap sometime soon, and to cover it up, they commit even more crimes, digging themselves a deeper and deeper hole, figuratively and literally.
Former "Seinfeld" writers Kavet and Robin script and direct this independent comedy that plays a great deal like a Coen Brothers comedy, except without the laughs or sense of depth. What it does offer is a lot of quirky characters bumbling their way through a comedy of errors, yet too lackadaisical in its delivery to generate the momentum necessary to garner anything more than sporadic chuckles. Wry dialogue and mistaken identities can only take you so far in character-driven comedies; we need to have some identity with the people we are following and some interest in their dilemmas before we find them trying to sort their ways out of sticky predicaments. For 90 minutes, we follow around the not-too-bright inhabitants of this small New Hampshire town, but at no point are we ever given someone to truly root for.
We've seen our share of dolts in films in recent years, anywhere from Dumb and Dumber to Napoleon Dynamite, and Live Free or Die feels too much like the illegally-obtained merchandise copped at a garage sale fence job found within the movie itself. In the end, it tries to make a leap that there is a great deal of merit in upholding a legend, even if the truth of it is far from accurate, but even if Rugged were to commit all of the acts he gets pinned for within the film, thinking him someone people would idolize and emulate is a definite stretch, even in a small New Hampshire town. What we have is an untalented, congenital liar and his dumb partner jumping through a series of progressively annoying hoops to try to secure the freedom they could have had if only they weren't so stupid. After a few scenes with these guys yelling at one another, you'll most likely be hoping for the latter choice within the film's "state motto"-inspired title.
©2007 Vince Leo