A Good Day to Die Hard (*½ / ****)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
Director: John Moore
I’ll give A Good Day to Die Hard credit where it’s due: It’s completely aware of its own badness that it compromises nothing and goes all balls-out in regards to its action scenes.
There’s no other option, really, because that’s all that the most disposable entry of the venerable Die Hard series – celebrating, incredibly, its 25 th anniversary in 2013 – has going for it. Perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that, at just over an hour and a half, it’s also the shortest picture of the series. Consider it an act of mercy, if you will.
There’s a tissue-paper storyline buried somewhere amidst all the bombast and wanton destruction, something about the always-irrepressible John McClane (Bruce Willis) tracking down his wayward son Jack (Jai Courtney) in Russia – it’s the first film in the series to take place outside the States – where he was arrested for murder and where he and a political prisoner, Komarov (Sebastian Koch) are about to stand trial. The elder McClane conveniently arrives in Moscow just as the courthouse is bombed to smithereens, and Jack flees with Komarov while basically telling Dad to go climb a rock when they set eyes upon each other for the first time in years. Not only does Jack have Daddy issues (yawn), but Komarov is such hot property because he claims to have evidence tying a corrupt Russian official (Sergei Kolesnikov) to the courthouse bombing. This leads to a very destructive three-way car chase through the Moscow streets and highways between Jack, the bombers, and John, in a sequence that’s brilliantly constructed and shot, even if it goes on way too long.
A Good Day to Die Hard plays out like this: character exposition, violence, more talking, and more violence. Lather, rinse and repeat. Dialogue is not wholly abundant here, period. While I can’t judge it as the worst in the series (I never saw 2011’s Live Free or Die Hard), the tediousness of the proceedings is all too evident in Willis’ performance. He’s not terrible but just old and tired, and he doesn’t exert much chemistry with his young costar. Even when he’s blowing the crap out of things, Willis is just going through the motions and the audience is equally unmoved.
This is because director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods have committed the unthinkable: rendering good old John McClane completely irrelevant: he’s been chopped down to just your average Hollywood action hero. You could’ve digitally replaced him in the picture with someone else and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. Even his trademark “Yippie ki-ay, motherf—er!” has zero vim and vinegar to it. Instead, McClane is reduced to either repeatedly yelling “Jesus!” or complaining about how his vacation has been interrupted. This recalls 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (still my favorite of the films), in which McClane regularly griped about how he had a bad [expletive] headache, but at least that was used to humorous effect.
In all honesty, the story would’ve been much more enjoyable had John been killed in action so that the franchise torch could be passed on to Jack, who would then carry on the McClane name for the next generation of Die Hard films, because there are flashes of star-quality promise amidst Courtney’s otherwise stiff performance.
Alas, it’s not to be, of course, and the audience are left relegated to having to swallow Jack’s actually being a CIA agent who’s working to stop a nuclear-weapons heist. Moore unashamedly also transforms McClane Sr. and Jr. into a pair of Wile E. Coyotes. Whenever not hurtling themselves through windows or falling straight down through multiple floors of scaffolding, they’re barraged with every type of enemy fire available, whether it be from gunships or compensation-sized machine guns shredding everything in sight around them, it borders on insulting that the worst injury that ever occurs is Jack suffering a minor shrapnel wound that he lets sit in his side for about a week before the object is pulled out. Heck, during the car chase, John gets flipped in two separate vehicles and walks away each time with not even so much as a scratch. After one particularly astronomical explosion, there’s a convenient body of water present for them to plunge into.
A hallmark of the series has always been the villains being as colorful and well-developed as the heroes. Here it’s not even close, as the generic baddies don’t do the trick. (I will admit, however, that this film may have put me off massages for awhile.) They’re just your average multiplex arms dealers who are so unmemorable that the script has them resorting to spouting laughable Cold War-era platitudes such as “It’s not 1986 anymore” and “You know what I really ate about the Americans? Everything” before they meet their inevitable demise. Woods tries to defibrillate the story by throwing in a generous helping of double-crosses in attempt to make them even remotely interesting, but no dice. Heck, the Gruber brothers have more charisma in their left pinkies, and they’re both dead.
© 2013 Jane F. Carlson