A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for violence and language
Length: 97 min.

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Sergei Kolesnikov, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Radivoke Bukvic, Cole Hauser
Director: John Moore
Screenplay: Skip Woods
Review published February 17, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard 2013After learning that his mostly estranged son Jack (Courtney, Jack Reacher) may be in trouble in Moscow, NYPD Detective John McClane (Willis, Looper) goes on vacation to Russia to see what's happening, only to immerse himself in a dangerous plot that requires his savvy skills yet again.  When John catches up with Jack, it's only to discover that he has been living a secret life as CIA agent, spending the last three years on a mission to protect a government informant named Komarov (Koch, Unknown), whose existence and knowledge has threatened those in power, namely a corrupt politician named Chagarin (Kolesnikov, Cold Souls), to the point where they are planning to have him killed at any cost.  When Jack is in over his head, it's up to dad to see him through.

A Good Day to Die Hard is the fifth and, sadly, worst of the decades-old franchise, deviating from every other action vehicle in the theaters today only in the father/son interplay of its stars.  It does differ from other Die Hard entries in that it is the first not to be set in the United States, but the screenplay feels as old as its characters, with Russian baddies and a Chernobyl tie-in that only serves to remind us that John McClane has been around since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, something one of the Russian baddies even remarks on.

Other than the completely uninteresting spy story at the heart of its plot scripted by Skip Woods (Hitman, Swordfish), the main reason why this entry fails to work, despite some very good CGI action sequences, is that McClane isn't the vulnerable everyman we once knew.  Many efforts are made to show him as a wiseacre, but his one-liners in this movie feel more like they are playing to the audience rather than as organic dialogue within the course of stressful events.  Some of the riffs are tired and redundant; on several occasions, John remarks about how he is "supposed to be on vacation," which is the kind of gag that one would think would have gone out with the "I'm not even supposed to be here today," motif in Clerks.  While elder McClane is riffing throughout, there's little interplay with his son, who is all business and almost zero personality.

The aforementioned action sequences are still the bread and butter of the franchise, and while they are impressively rendered, the results are so cartoonish and defy all laws of physics, they only call to mind just how far amiss the franchise has gone.  The first Die Hard was refreshing simply because it seemed to put a real person at the heart of the film.  Not the usual taciturn, womanizing lone wolf who knows all the angles and is just so much better at everything than his enemies, but a quite talkative husband and father who perpetually seems way over his head.  McClane's character in this movie tries to push that characterization, but instead of blending in with the world around him, he seems to exist outside of it, commenting on it as if he is there but knows he is being watched, and feels obligated to put on a grand show.  In other words, he is a caricature and not a character anymore.   Father and son bond, not because they have a great heart-to-heart talk, but because elder McClane saves his son's bacon and his mission time and again, to the point where he can only feel a deep sense gratitude. 

With director John Moore (Max Payne, Flight of the Phoenix) upping the shaky-cam vibe to the utmost degree, it's hard to get a good grip on just what's going on, other than it sure looks explosively dangerous.  Dramamine may be a requirement for some.  Meanwhile, the bad guys make for paltry foils, hardly worthy of the time it takes to explore their motivations.  Fans of frenetic pyrotechnics may be sated, but die-hard Die Hard fans will think it's about time to sing, "Happy Trails" to their favorite Roy Rogers-quoting hero.

-- Preceded by Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Live Free or Die Hard.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo