A Good Day to Die Hard
Dying Harder: See this one because you’re compelled by nostalgia, not because it’s a great film.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Remember John McClane? New York cop, blue collar kind of guy, not afraid to do his best in an emergency situation on unfamiliar turf?
Sure you do. We loved him in Die Hard, a big hit with movie audiences in 1988 who were eager for a recognizably human hero after a decade of inarticulate, invincible lunks played by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There’s not much left of that McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. Twenty-five years after first playing the role that catapulted him from genial TV wiseass to Hollywood action hero, Bruce Willis is back for his fifth turn as the man whom trouble always seems to find.
When last seen in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, McClane was fighting to rescue his daughter Lucy from the clutches of a cyberterrorist. This time it’s his son he’s worried about. They haven’t spoken in several years, but when news comes that Jack (Jai Courtney) is in a Russian prison, McClane is on his way.
In Moscow, he’s relieved to learn that Jack is actually a CIA undercover operative. Of course, he’d be more relieved if he wasn’t learning this in the midst of a spectacular escape involving Jack and the object of his mission, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a billionaire who holds evidence of corruption against a high-ranking Russian minister.
It’s some time and kilometers – and a lot of ruined cars, buildings and roads – before things settle down enough for father and son to have a moment’s chat. And a moment is about all the time Jack is willing to give John, against whom he still bears a grudge.
We never learn the nature of the grudge. Dialogue scenes here exist only as padding between the action set pieces, which are spectacular but overwhelming. The chase sequence following Yuri’s escape took two and a half months to shoot, and it looks like it. But it’s overkill, especially coming so near the beginning of the film: after a few minutes of it, the excitement gives way to tedium.
At 97 minutes – much shorter than previous Die Hards – A Good Day packs in more action than ever but skimps on characters. The story is generic, at least until a third-act plot twist that comes too late to do more than elbow us awake.
For most of the film McClane feels like he’s just along for the ride, and when he does act it’s largely to run away from the military hardware the bad guys are training on him and Jack. It’s often hard to tell just what is going on, as director John Moore (Max Payne) seems to care about nothing but filling the screen with explosions and firepower.
This might not matter if all you’re expecting is an action movie. But if you’re going to see a Die Hard movie, it’s to revisit a character who has thrilled us and made us laugh with his wits, bravery and street smarts. The guy who shows up here can barely even be bothered to say “Yippie-kay-ay.”
Other characters fare no better. German star Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) could play a florid villain a la Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons in previous Die Hards, but the script keeps his character uncertain. As the junior McClane, Jai Courtney, last seen brawling with Tom Cruise at the conclusion of Jack Reacher mostly seems churlish and unlikable because of the unknown rancor with his father.
If there is going to be a sixth Die Hard, let’s hope they get back to basics: Special effects just take money, but a character the audience cares about is an asset that shouldn’t be wasted like this.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2½) Directed by John Moore Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. • Rated R. • 97 mins. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Cannery Row XD.