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Entries in Good Day to Die Hard/A [2013] (1)

Sunday
Feb172013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

A Price Above Rubles

It's been a rough weekend for Russia. Not only did a frickin' Transformers-sized meteor crash there, but now the entire moviegoing world will associate it with the death of Die Hard. Were I afflicted with that old-time religion, I might draw a connection between the two.

I wrote several iterations of that opening paragraph during the first twenty minutes of A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth and hopefully last entry in a film franchise that should never have existed. Not that I don't enjoy something about each sequel (including this one), but I've had to endure decades of increasingly dissatisfied fans complaining about how each new movie "isn't Die Hard".

Let's clear something up right now: A Good Day to Die Hard is a Die Hard movie; it just isn't Die Hard. And thank God for that! Twenty-five years of Bruce Willis finding himself trapped in different buildings, communicating with authorities in secret, while picking off bad guys one by one? I'm sorry, but John McClane (Bruce Willis) is not Jason Voorhees, and if I must watch a genre-defining movie get serialized to death, I'll choose variety every time. Back to my original point...

The first twenty minutes earn every cocked, concerned eyebrow and scornful word the film has received. Nearly retired NYPD cop McClane travels to Russia when he hears that his rebellious son, Jack (Jai Courtney) has wound up in custody there. He assumes Jack got caught up in drugs, but it turns out Junior is a CIA operative working to liberate a political prisoner during his public trial. Dad shows up in the middle of a botched assassination attempt, and participates in a three-way car chase between Jack and his charge, and an army of Russian-government-funded goons led by a guy named Alik (Rasha Bukvic).

As you might imagine--because this chase involves an armored super-truck, mid-day traffic, and a grumpy, confused John McClane--chaos ensues. Director John Moore sure knows how to stage an epic freeway brawl, with killer trucks running over cars, busting through overpass barriers, and making U-turns in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The problem is, he doesn't know when to stop. All the time and money it took to set up this practical-stunt-work masterpiece was wasted on an over-long, geographically confusing, and ultimately pointless exercise in excess--hence, copious mental space in which to craft the opening of this review.

The rest of the story involves more ready-to-be-leveled set pieces, lots of the McClane boys sneaking around while trying to out-snark each other, and a handful of thematic references to the previous Die Hard movies. This, I suppose, is inevitable, considering the fact that John McTiernan's breakout film became the template for all such action movies in the last quarter-century. For that reason alone, I can't be made at Moore, screenwriter Skip Woods, or anyone else involved in this thing.

Given the fact that the creative team's previous efforts include Max Payne, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and big-screen A-Team, it's unfair of me or anyone else to expect a new take on an old classic. Had McTiernan returned (which would've been awesome, but logistically impossible) and turned out the same movie, maybe there'd be a reason for all the ranting and raving. But, come on, kids, this is fucking Die Hard 5.

So, for a moment, let's take emotional attachment out of the equation and pretend this is just another dumb Bruce Willis movie. How does A Good Day to Die Hard measure up to every other off-season actioner we've had to suffer through on the way to summer's "legit" brain-dead releases?

It's not bad, once you get past the bloated car chase. Much of the banter between Willis and Courtney falls flat, but the father/son reconciliation stuff isn't terrible. In fact, it casts a harsher light on the franchise as we realize the cost of McClane's superheroics: Jack grew up essentially father-less, and it takes getting into a life-or-death scrape with John for them to air out all their baggage. There's also a nice parallel story involving a billionaire scientist named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) and his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir). I'll leave that hanging, as diving too far into all this film's daddy issues is a one-way ticket to Spoilerville.

Themes aside, I found the movie itself far too goofy not to enjoy. A Good Day to Die Hard plays like something Tommy Wiseau picked up after Michael Bay bailed out. From the fake dramatic tension; to our CGI-ragdoll heroes, whose bodies should have been pulp by the end of act two; to a Cold War-era storyline that carries on the series' latter-day efforts to deal with every kind of terrorism not involving Muslim extremists,* the film waves its ignorance proudly and loudly, offering apologies to no one.

Every character is a cartoon character. Bukvic literally chomps on a carrot, Bugs Bunny-style, while delivering a monologue. Koch has the mad, hang-dog look of Dennis Miller posing as Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" for Halloween. Courtney, looking every bit like Michael Rosenbaum 2.0, is allowed to display some of the charisma that made him such a treat in Jack Reacher--but not much. And Willis recites his lines as if reading a poorly written script aloud in disbelief.

It's obvious that a lot of people got paid a shit-ton of money to booze it up in Russia while playing nukes-an'-bad-guys with really big, really dangerous toys. The result is a movie I'll never watch again, but don't regret having seen once. The idiocy kept me awake in between explosions, and I was constantly on the lookout for whichever character would reveal him/herself to be a long-lost relative/business associate of Hans Gruber. Sadly, this never happens, but A Good Day to Die Hard is the kind of silly, disposable popcorn commercial in which it very well should have.

*Of course, I'm not suggesting terrorism and the Muslim faith are synonymous; I'm simply pointing out that Die Hard has classically focused on run-ins with international terrorists. And while I have no doubt that cyber-crimes (Live Free or Die Hard) and loose uranium canisters (this movie) are real threats, it's weird to see John McClane still living in a world in which 9/11 apparently never happened.