THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD"
A Good Day to Die Hard is the Superman IV: The Quest for Peace of the Die Hard series. It is Jaws: The Revenge, The Next Karate Kid, and that movie where Jason Voorhees kills people in a spaceship. It is Jar Jar Binks, Batman's oversized codpiece, and Indiana Jones escaping an atomic blast by hiding in a refrigerator. When franchises go on for too long, they run the risk of becoming silly and contrived. They stop resembling the original and turn into something barely recognizable, something you wish would just stop, stop, for the love of mankind, STOP! I'm tempted to say that if you love the original Die Hard, you should never see this movie. That's how untrue to the 1988 classic it is.
Bruce Willis returns as John McClane. Once upon a time, he was an ordinary cop trying to rescue his wife in an office building. Several sequels later, he's evolved into some kind of superhuman killing machine, capable of emerging from preposterously deadly situations relatively unscathed. As this new film opens, he is on his way to Russia to bring home his troubled adult son. McClane is stunned to learn that Jack (Jai Courtney) is not, in fact, a criminal, but rather a CIA operative trying to prevent a potential global disaster. The specifics of his case are entirely dull. It involves stolen uranium and secret codes – stuff that would have been cliched during the Reagan administration. Estranged father and son get involved in all manner of shootouts, taking time to bicker at each other in between bullets, before deciding that, doggonit!, they really, really love each other.
Adding a child – even an adult one – into the mix is about as desperate a maneuver as you can get. Other movies have tried it as well (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Rocky V are two examples) to no good effect. What is there to do, really, other than have parent and child predictably work out their dysfunction by going on an adventure together? If that was the only thing A Good Day to Die Hard had working against it, it might still have been an okay movie. Unfortunately, a predictable father/son subplot is only one of its problems. You also get a thoroughly uninteresting story and a generic, unmemorable villain. (Wherefore art thou, Hans Gruber?) The performances are sorry too. Willis sleepwalks through his role, as though simply being called “John McClane” onscreen is sufficient, while Jai Courtney delivers a performance of preternatural blandness.
One thing you should be able to count on above all else in a Die Hard picture is great action. A Good Day to Die Hard fails even on this count. There is one semi-okay car chase early on, but the rest is just routine gunplay, with nary an original idea in sight. As has become par for the course in too many modern action flicks, everything is edited into a convoluted shaky-cam mess, so that half the time you can't tell what exactly you're looking at. The film doesn't even attempt to follow logic. In one scene, McClane is dangling from a loud helicopter, yet still calling for Jack, who is perched on the roof of a building and apparently hears him, given that he calls back. I find it hard to become invested in action sequences when they are so brazenly bereft of common sense.
The original Die Hard was a tight, authentic action movie about a normal guy who pushed himself to the limit in order to take down the madman holding his wife hostage. The things McClane did had plausibility, even when they were crazy for him to attempt. This fifth installment in the series is a Die Hard film in name only. It's cheap looking and ambivalent about telling a good story or developing its characters. Worst of all, it turns John McClane into a shell of his former self. Whereas we once rooted for him, we now know that he can survive literally anything, no matter how absurd or potentially fatal. He is no longer an everyman; he is an automaton with a gun and a smirk.
A Good Day to Die Hard was directed by John Moore, whose previous work includes the equally insipid Max Payne and Behind Enemy Lines. It was written by Skip Woods, the guy who penned Hitman and Swordfish. Why was the Die Hard franchise entrusted to these men? Neither has a track record of making good action pictures. Judging from this pathetic movie, it's also safe to say that neither of them has the foggiest idea what made Die Hard such a classic. In fact, one wonders whether Moore and Woods have ever even seen it. Their movie could not be more out of touch. Here's hoping John McClane will now take a well-earned retirement.
( out of four)
A Good Day to Die Hard is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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