Granite Staters…represent!

Our story centers on John “Rugged” Rudgate (Aaron Stanford) a hapless criminal poseur who is desperate to carve his name into the infamous lore of New Hampshire, if something like that exists. Whatever he has to do to feign a bad-ass reputation he does, even if it means hitching his wagon to Jeff LaGrand (Paul Schneider), a slow-witted part owner of self-storage facility.

Rugged sees an opportunity to net a job running security for Jeff’s company and does his best to make his friend believe that he has the hardcore credentials to do so, even if Jeff’s sister Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) isn’t interested. A series of misunderstandings and idiotic actions suddenly give Rugged the opportunity to cement his legend as NH’s most nefarious bad boy.

Before you trudge through my bandwidth-eating babbling to get to the final verdict, do yourself a favor and track down this gem. Live Free or Die is a very funny film, boasting a far more potent laugh count than most of the big-studio comedy crap being shuffled into the theaters. Made on a budget that was less than whatever is less than “shoestring,” the film generates laughs the old-fashioned way: not with CGI dogs flushing the toilet, but with a strong script, quirky characters and a talented group of actors to bring it all together.

This cast is stellar. As Rugged, Aaron Stanford has tapped directly into what drives this pathetic — though semi-lovable — loser. Stanford notes in the accompanying making-of documentary that his character knows what kind of person he actually is, and that is far different from the edgy rapscallion he strives to be.

Continually hampered by his shortcomings, and those of the compatriots he chooses to keep company with, Rugged eventually begins to realize the painful truth that he is indeed a poseur, and Stanford nails the character progression. Of course an opportunity arises at the end for Rugged to attain all he yearns for, but let’s not spoil anything. Suffice it to say, Aaron Stanford shoulders the lead role with ease and charisma.

His co-star, however, runs away with the film. Paul Schneider is a comedy god here, with everything he does ending up as prime gut laugh fertilizer. It starts with his character, a lumbering, likely-mentally-challenged doofus. When Schneider gets a hold of him, the result leads to chronic ribcage aching. From the too-small wardrobe, to the mannerisms (mouth-breathing, hair flipping, mispronunciations), Schneider nails the role and it is because of his performance, more than anyone else’s (and that’s saying quite a bit when you’re talking about this lineup) that Live Free or Die soars.

In smaller supporting roles, Michael Rappaport as an unstable local cop and Deschanel as the exasperated sister do good work, but the stand-out supporter is Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Alex Gazaniga, a local scumbag trying to make it as UFC fighter who takes Rugged and LaGrand down a road they weren’t expecting.

Look, I don’t want to belabor this thing (plus it’s really late and I’m tired), so do yourself a favor and find this movie and watch it and laugh a lot like I did. Seeing something like this that manages to be smart and consistently funny is a real shot in the arm for this jaded movie-goer, who has suffered through enough unfunny phlegm to make him think that amusing comedies no longer exist. Well, they do, and here’s Exhibit A.

Here’s a nice DVD from ThinkFilm, too. The video quality is adequate (1.78:1 anamorphic) though not a stunner. Dolby Digital 5.1 pushes the sound, but the mix is front-loaded; you won’t mind though, because there is hardly any action to take advantage of the back surrounds.

The nice selection of extras kicks off with a subdued, but funny group commentary track (directors Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin and stars Aaron Stanford and Paul Schneider). A six-minute making-of documentary, bloopers and a pair of deleted scenes bat clean-up. The niftiest bonus, however, is the alternate ending which is far from the denouement the writers eventually settled on.

The Verdict

The accused is…”granite”…clemency.

 

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