Review: ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ is the Hardest…To Sit Through
In the first act of A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth (!) installment of the high-octane action franchise, there’s a car chase that’s so insane, so deliriously destructive, it had to have broken a record for Most Damaged Vehicles in a Single Movie Sequence. A heavy-duty van-tank plows through the streets and highways of Moscow, Russia, sideswiping poor unfortunate passenger cars as if they were made of plastic. Minutes later, the whole thing culminates in a giant smash-em-up that only makes this writer wonder what kind of insurance policy was used on such an elaborate live-action stunt.
Chasing after these bad guys is John McClane, everyone’s favorite New York City cop who just can’t go anywhere without coming in between an evil mastermind and his dastardly plan. Turns out these bad guys in question are after John’s estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who’s trying to protect a key political prisoner after breaking him out his court date — another action sequence that follows a briskly paced prologue and kicks off the over-the-top film. McClane Senior arrives in Russia with the intention of bailing McClane Junior out of jail and ends up in the middle of a bigger mess than he imagined (go figure). The reason why Father and Son haven’t spoken in years? Jack’s been working on missions for the CIA…and oh yeah, John hasn’t been the greatest paternal figure. However, he does seem to have a healthy relationship with his daughter, here portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who only pops up to tell his dad to be careful. Good luck with that.
John Moore’s direction is a soulless imitation of the quick pans and annoying zooms that characterized all of the Bourne movies (the first three, at least). It’s no surprise that he hails from the world of videogame adaptations. His Max Payne in 2008 was every bit as jarring. And one extreme slo-mo sequence in the crazy climax, in which our father-son team fall through a glass ceiling parallel to an exploding helicopter, only works to reiterate the ridiculousness of the action. As for the script, Skip Woods does a disservice to this iconic franchise, easily turning it into the weakest of the bunch and littering it with lines of uninspired dialogue. Together, they risk tarnishing the Die Hard legacy and end up producing a mindless piece of cinema that one would expect from a junky Jason Statham vehicle.
John McClane is now relegated to spitting out stale one-liners after every explosion or gunfight. One or two times is fine, but turning it into repetitive schtick isn’t. That said, there are enough bullets fired as there are wrinkles in Bruce Willis’s weathered mug. Again, he represents an old-school way doing things, that analog hero who doesn’t try to bridge the generation gap — he sets it on fire with a match and walks away while puffing on a cigar, just like any badass who had prominence in that ancient era known as the 1980s. While the last entry, Live Free or Die Hard, saw our hero take on terrorists threatening to ruin America’s infrastructure in this challenging Digital Age, Good Day sees him battle foreign baddies who revisit Chernobyl (remember that disaster from ’86?) in an attempt to carry out their plans for nuclear destruction. If that sounds quaintly 80s, then you’ll get a kick out of one of the villains reminding our heroes that “Ronald Reagan is dead.” Zing! Still doesn’t cover up for the contrivance.
Jai Courtney, whose biceps are as big as his head, is adequately cast as the younger McClane. However, this should not be interpreted as a passing of the franchise torch whatsoever. There is more charisma to be found in a cardboard box after watching Courtney’s gruff performance. And we get it: the boy’s got daddy issues only a semi-automatic and an enlistment in the CIA can take care of.
On the bright side, at least Willis has proven himself to be the the most enduring member of the 80s Action Heroes Club; after the box-office bombs that were The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head, Schwarzenegger and Stallone, respectively, have a harder time maintaining their relevance in these tricky 2010s. But hey, we still get to look forward to Bruce’s RED 2.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the original. However, if Die Hard in Space ever gets greenlit by 20th Century Fox to commemorate the 30th, I’m going to rent a tank and start smashing some cars myself.
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)