A Good Day to Die Hard
Director : John Moore
Screenplay : Skip Woods
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2013
Stars : Bruce Willis (John McClane), Jai Courtney (Jack McClane), Sebastian Koch (Komarov), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lucy), Yuliya Snigir (Irina), Radivoje Bukvic (Alik), Cole Hauser (Collins), Amaury Nolasco (Murphy), Sergei Kolesnikov (Chagarin), Roman Luknár (Anton), Zolee Ganxsta (MRAP Driver), Péter Takátsy (Prosecutor), Pasha D. Lychnikoff (Cabbie)
A Good Day to Die Hard turns out to be a bad day for the venerable action franchise, which, in stretching into its third decade, is starting to look very long in the tooth indeed. In his fifth outing as New York cop John McClane, Bruce Willis appears to be doing little more than going through the motions, and the character is so gutted and generic at this point that virtually any other action caricature could be inserted into the script with virtually no effect on the film as a whole. While McClane was a sarcastic breath of fresh air back in 1988 when he single-handedly saved the Nakatomi Building from Eurotrash terrorist-thieves, he is now a complete cartoon, acting so calm and cool under pressure that he saps all the tension from the movie. Too many of McClane’s smirks feel like Willis smirking out of character—I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this again and people are going to buy it!
In an effort to reinvigorate the franchise, which was pulled out of mothballs fives years ago with the generally entertaining Live Free or Die Hard (2007), screenwriter Skip Woods (The A-Team) moves the action to Russia, where McClane has traveled to find his estranged adult son Jack (Jai Courtney), who he fears is in deep trouble with the Russian government. It turns out that Jack is a real chip off the ol’ block, as he is working for the CIA trying to protect a Russian billionaire named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has a computer file of incriminating evidence against Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), a corrupt defense minister. McClane naturally gets drawn into the melee, which also involves Komarov’s daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir), a sadistic heavy named Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), and numerous armies of interchangeable Russian thugs who are on-screen only long enough to get mowed down by heavy machine-gun fire. Perhaps recognizing that the series has little left to offer, director John Moore (Max Payne) goes for broke in the action department, giving us lots of loud, hectic, barely coherent and usually implausible action setpieces in which heavy objects crash into each other and McClane and his son continually escape with only minor cuts and bruises (one of the charms of the original Die Hard is that McClane truly looked like hell by the end of it, wearing the accumulated bruises and lacerations like a full-body bloody badge of honor; now he can crash through dozens of plate glass windows and be little worse for the wear).
And, while some of the action works in its own absurdly over-the-top way, we can’t help but be drawn back to the disappointing, sinking feeling of how rote and formulaic it all feels. Even when the filmmakers try to give the story a new twist, in this case making McClane’s sidekick-in-action his embittered son, it doesn’t work because Jai Courtney’s character is so numbingly one-dimensional. The tensions between father and son are meant to heighten the intensity of the battles in which they find themselves while also providing a path to familial redemption by the final reel, but there’s never any real heat to the conflict, the way McClane’s marital strife in the original film made every drop of bloodshed feel painfully personal. Willis, who looks more and more like a granite statue with every film, delivers what I imagine he thinks the audience will want to see, which consists primarily of him acting cool under pressure and dropping a few witty one-liners, including the immortal “Yippee-ki-yay,” but it all feels like the very definition of going through the motions. McClane was an interesting action hero because he had a human dimension that came out as fear, panic, and bewilderment. His been-there-done-that attitude sinks the film because it’s too easy to identify with his boredom.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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