If you find yourself wondering how a diminutive young woman and a broken-boned 52-year-old man have come to be bashing each others' brains...

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If you find yourself wondering how a diminutive young woman and a broken-boned 52-year-old man have come to be bashing each others’ brains out while trapped in an SUV that’s dangling face downward high up in an elevator shaft at one of the nation’s most secure government facilities, you’re watching the wrong movie.

This scene about midway through the fourth installment of the “Die Hard” franchise isn’t even the most spectacular or far-fetched. But like most of the giddy, extravagant entertainment of “Live Free or Die Hard,” its breathtaking pace leaves no room for wondering about anything, be it the scofflaws of physics who thought up the stunts or the nonsensical plot that unfolds with such absurd logic that it actually seems plausible.

Bruce Willis again brushes off the New York City police badge of Detective John McClane to dive into the action more cynically than ever as an aging bulldog and reluctant (super) hero. He’s thrown into the action when the FBI recruits him to escort a computer hacker to Washington, D.C. Pasty-faced braniac Matt Farrell (Justin Long) is one of many underground silicon junkies who have unwittingly provided seemingly innocuous algorithms to a slick band of cyber terrorists bent on taking down the country’s computer infrastructure.

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Movie review 3 stars

Showtimes and trailer

“Live Free or Die Hard,” Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Directed by Len Wiseman, from a script by Mark Bomback. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation.

McClane arrives just in time to save Matt from a batch of plastic explosives — a fate that has already befallen his other unsuspecting hacker buddies. McClane also foils the five-man hit squad sent to finish off Matt in a dizzying sequence that sends the camera into acrobatic swoops around bullets, bad guys and things that go boom. “Spider-Man” has nothing on the physical action of this camera crane gadgetry and the non-computerized moves by a gymnastics — and parkour-inspired champion stuntman.

By the time McClane gets Matt to D.C., the Prada-clad bad guys have already initiated the first phases of a worst-case scenario takeover of anything controlled by a computer.

Whacked-out traffic signals turn cities into crashed-car parking lots, Anthrax alerts empty government buildings and financial markets implode on bogus trading info. Matt explains that it’s the beginning of a “Fire Sale”; everything-must-go Armageddon in hacker-terror parlance.

The guy in charge of the Fire Sale is Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), a disgruntled ex government cyber guru who only wants all the money in the USA as compensation. Since he designed the backup system, all he needs are a few laptops and guys with guns to take it all. What he didn’t count on was McClane and his new buddy Matt, who fortunately has a laptop of his own.

It’s hard to explain how wall-to-wall action is suffused in this detail-heavy plot, but the nonstop mayhem includes several helicopter-to-ground urban battles, many flying and exploding car chases, lots of inventive running, fighting, shooting and jumping sequences and a climactic duel between an armored 18-wheeler, a Harrier jet and a multilevel interstate highway that’s beautifully decimated in the process.

Along the way there are many, many deaths, and wiseacre McClane reacts with the same glee we do at the more gnarly ones.

Ultimately, “Live Free or Die Hard” so completely slacks our jaw and so successfully suspends our disbelief that the highest praise goes to the crew of first-class technicians who pulled it off. Their motto must have been: If you can think it up, we can make it happen.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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