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It's not the crime, it's the cover-up. In small-town, hard-scrabble New Hampshire, foul-mouthed all-talk slacker John "Rugged" Rudgate fancies himself a criminal. When a local plumber stares him down at a pub, Rugged vows revenge, pouring brake fluid in the man's water supply. When the man dies from unrelated causes, Rugged and his side-kick, the even dimmer Jeff, try to cover up what they think is murder. One bad decision begets another. Written by
a novel setting and a sweet tone make for a fun offbeat comedy
Scenic New Hampshire serves as the novel setting for "Live Free or Die" (not to be confused with the later Bruce Willis film, "Live Free or Die HARD"), an entertaining indie comedy that takes its title from the state's time-honored motto of in-your-face defiance.
John Rudgate - who goes by the nickname "Rugged" - is an inept wannabe tough guy who fancies himself a notorious outlaw. He spends most of his days riding around in a dilapidated van trying to convince others - as well as himself - that he is, indeed, the most feared lawbreaker in the county. In reality, the "stolen" merchandise he is moving is actually his own stuff, and the gun he keeps in a drawer in the kitchen is nothing more than a water pistol. The folks in town shrug him off as little more than an irritating pest with delusions of criminal grandeur. Like any villain worth his salt, Rudgate needs to find himself a sycophantic henchman who will do a substantial amount of his dirty work for him. He alights on Lagrand, a simpleminded, but sweet-natured acquaintance who co-owns a storage facility with his sister, a clear-eyed pragmatist who, unlike her brother, knows a BS-ing con artist when she sees one.
Although the movie can't entirely shake free of the "oddball quirkiness" factor that seems to afflict so much of regional film-making these days, movie makers Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin evince a genuine affection for their characters and a sly way with storytelling that go a long way towards mitigating that weakness. They are aided immeasurably by wonderfully self-effacing performances by Paul Schneider, Michael Rapaport, Zooey Deschanel, and, above all, Aaron Stanford, who, as Rudgate, turns a potentially one-note caricature into an endearingly original and surprisingly memorable comic figure. And, besides, the colorful New England setting is alone worth the price of a rental.
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