"Live Free or Die" (not to be confused with the new "Die Hard" sequel) drifts around as aimlessly as its characters, calmly dragging its knuckles on the ground in search of laughs. It's the perfect comedy for those who find the physical act of laughing too much of a hassle.
John "Rugged" Rudgate (Aaron Stanford, "Tadpole") is a small town petty criminal clinging to his reputation as the town enforcer. When he runs into Lagrand (Paul Schneider, "All the Real Girls"), a simple-minded acquaintance from high school, Rudgate gets the idea to pull off a bigger swindle than he's ever attempted before. When Rudgate mistakes an intended poisoning for a death his did not actually commit, it sets off a chain of accidents and paranoia that involves the local cops (Kevin Dunn, Michael Rappaport), Lagrand's sister (Zooey Deschanel), and the tireless efforts of New England's dumbest citizens.
Written and directed by Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin, two graduates from the sitcom school of "Seinfeld," "Live Free or Die" feels like a quilt of ideas and characters that came about during a particularly fervent brainstorming session. The patchwork sensation of the film is exacerbated by the picture's glacial pace; the story doesn't even really begin until the halfway point, which is strange for something as purposefully silly as this picture.
What "Live Free" does have in spades is mood. The gloomy New England sights and sounds are given an almost Coen Brothers-style of bleak hilarity; in the midst of all the spoiled clams, autumnal neglect, and smoky bars lives this crimewave that blends right into the community. The filmmakers have a nice grasp on the visual despair of the piece, and they use it wisely to augment the idiocy of the participants.
Of course, the jokes have to fight to be heard above the dreariness, and that sluggish presentation of humor is why "Live Free" doesn't seems as funny as it was intended. The cast is certainly up for tomfoolery, but when they score a laugh it comes out of the side of your mouth. The farcical intentions never seem to lift off the ground.
The true piece of invention in the film comes from Paul Schneider. Playing that dim-witted guy we all knew in high school, Schneider commits completely to Lagrand's impulsive spirit and expressionless body movement. The performance starts off with a great deal of unease, but once Schneider hangs around long enough, it's fun to watch where he takes the character, and to see how much he tests his own patience playing someone who has spent their life with a question mark above their head.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), "Live Free or Die" is a pleasant viewing experience. Well, as pleasant as this picture's downbeat visual scope allows. Image is free of defects, and the muddied autumnal colors are solidly reproduced.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track separates dialogue and soundtrack selections superbly, making for an encouraging aural experience. The film's meager budget doesn't provide much power to the speakers, but the DVD replicates the film's modest comedic intentions with ease.
First up is a feature-length audio commentary with directors Kavet and Robin, and actors Aaron Stanford and Paul Schneider. My dear readers, this is one of those toxic, smart-ass commentary experiences that gives the whole process a bad name. Relentlessly jokey (think "X-Men: The Last Stand," but even more comedically grotesque) to a point of tiresome confusion, the track is a total bore, more concerned with moronic in-joking than illuminating the production process. However, all four gentlemen seem to be having a rip-roaring good time. I'm glad they're amused.
The commentary is a waste of time.
An alternate ending (4 minutes), showing a sunnier take on Rudgate's ultimate fate, is included.
"The Making of 'Live Free or Die'" (6 minutes) steps behind the camera to interview cast and crew, taking a look at how the loose atmosphere on the set bled into the final product. It's interesting to see the actors mingle and to examine the low-budget limitations of the production.
A blooper reel (3 minutes) is more of a wrap-party curiosity than a laugh-out-loud experience.
Two deleted scenes (totaling 3 minutes) do little to beef up the narrative. Instead they provide more footage of Rudgate and Lagrand interacting, adding some texture to their partnership.
Finally, a theatrical trailer is included, along with peeks at "A Dog Problem," "Life of the Party," "A New Wave," "Farce of the Penguins," and "House of Usher."
Once the characters have been arranged and the caper ignited, "Live Free" picks up in pace and clowning around, paying off all the slow set-up of the first 45 minutes with extended slapstick takes on robbery and accidents. This is not a forceful picture, but it does tend to grown on the viewer with Rudgate's continual aggravation of his criminal situation. "Live Free or Die" is a charming and funny film, it's just as shame it doesn't aim higher than a basic serving of chuckles.
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