Very much like its hapless lead character, a small-town, small-time hustler who yearns to present himself as a dangerous outlaw, “Live Free or Die” tries too hard, to little effect. Best described as “Fargo Lite,” indie comedy is criminally short on laughs as it tries to wring humor from dull activity by dim bulbs. Pic merits an indefinite sentence to late-night cable timeslots.
Despite his pathetic posturing and foul-mouthed bluster, John “Rugged” Rudgate (unappealingly played by Aaron Stanford) is ill-equipped to intimidate, and too inept for even the pettiest of larcenies. Indeed, he’s so desperate to earn bad-boy credentials in his backwoods New Hampshire community that he tries to poison a bar room bully who publicly humiliated him. When the bully dies, Rugged rashly (and mistakenly) assumes responsibility, triggering a series of complications that are never quite as funny as filmmakers Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin intend. Performances range from barely adequate to gratingly overstated. Cast as Rugged’s reluctant partner in crime, Paul Schneider appears to be channeling Will Ferrell from a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Tech values are unspectacular.