Tells the tale of a pair of bumbling criminals at large in the Granite state
A cross between “The Public Enemy” and “Dumb and Dumber,” Seinfeld writing team Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin’s film “Live Free or Die,” tells the tale of a pair of bumbling criminals at large in the Granite state. The film follows rebate coupon forger and speaker fencer John “Rugged” Rudgate, who longs to erase the town’s image of him as a mealy mouthed weakling. When he meets up with his kind but slow high school friend, Jeff Lagrand, his chance emerges. Lagrand and his long suffering sister have just inherited the family’s storage business, which becomes the perfect target for Rudgate’s plan to rise above his muddy New Hampshire past. Thinking that he can manipulate Lagrand into giving him equity in the business, Rudgate renews his friendship with Lagrand, sparking a host of comedic sequences that hilariously twist the plot left and right and back again.
In addition to the clever plot and solid script, strong acting by the principals makes the film quite memorable. Aaron Stanford shines in the lead role of John. A character you hate to love, Stanford’s portrayal of John is so heartfelt that you find yourself rooting for him to finally make a decent score. Watching John run after his broken down van as it roles across the parking lot or watching his pathetic attempts to take the steel cap off of a sewer drain are played with perfect comedic timing. In the part of Lagrand, Paul Schneider gives a wonderful performance. Schneider, choosing to play it straight, infuses the idiot Lagrand with such a poignant reality that you feel guilty laughing at his reactions to Rudgate’s wild schemes. Rounding out the terrific cast are Zooey Deschanel, as Lagrand’s anal sister who perpetually picks up after her brother’s messes, Kevin Dunn, as a small town cop in hot pursuit of our local criminals and Michael Rapaport, as the jealous husband and cop who gets caught up in the growing web of Rudgate’s crime spree.
Interestingly, Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin chose to individually direct the actors on different days, which might account for the varying pace and feel of the film in parts. Yet ultimately the film builds to a satisfying and surprisingly thought provoking ending. The cold and stark New England setting is beautifully shot to convey Rudgate’s desperation and longing for a better life. As well narration is cleverly introduced at the beginning and end as a way to frame the story and elevate Rudgate’s mythic status as public enemy number one.
“Live Free or Die” is deadpan comedy at its best. It satirically reminds us that in America true freedom comes with a penalty and that sometimes rising out of a rut is worth dying for, especially if fame and fortune lie at the other end of the ditch.