Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

When did the Die Hard franchise officially “jump the shark?”  Was it in the second film, when Bruce Willis’ John McClane jumped onto the wing of a movie 747?  Or was it in the third film, when he survived an underground flood by being harmlessly thrusted out a manhole.  Surely, by the time he was paired opposite Justin Long to stop an imminent cyber attack against the U.S., you were well aware this was no longer the John McClane you knew and loved.  Still, many critics have opined that the problem with A Good Day to Die Hard is that the film betrays its roots – that John McClane should be an everyman who not only survives but also overcomes realistic circumstances through grit and determination.  Realistic?  Really?  What about the last three movies has seemed at all realistic?  No, the real problem with the fifth Die Hard is that it’s a pointless excuse to smash a bunch of cars and blow up stuff.

The plot of the movie finds McClane off to Moscow to find his son, who has apparently found himself in a bit of trouble.  As in the previous films, we are reminded repeatedly that McClane has been a horrible family man and is hoping to mend fences with his son.  Sending him to Moscow adds the fish-out-of-water layer to the plot but that only manifests in a few re-hashed American cowboy jokes.  The rest of the plot plays out with McClane repeatedly schooling his son, so much so that I was waiting for him to break out into a rendition of “Kids” from Bye Bye Birdie.  It all gets tired really fast.

If I could make an analogy to illustrate what ails this film it would be that director John Moore and writer Skip Woods gives us the cinematic equivalent of a BMW 1-series.  People may call the 1 series a BMW, slap the logo on the hood, and pay BMW prices, but nothing under the hood suggests that it is a real BMW.  That’s the deal with Die Hard 5.  Other than casting Bruce Willis and giving it a title that not-so-cleverly uses the words “Die Hard,” there’s nothing about this movie that looks or feels like Die Hard.  The plot is generic and uninteresting.  And save for one or two way-over-the-top scenes, the action sequences are pretty unimaginative.  And in a movie like this, if you don’t have top not action then you don’t have anything.

Where I knew things had gone wrong was when the plot took us to Chernobyl.  Having seen Chernobyl Diaries before this film, I can safely say that I hope no other film ever uses this as a backdrop to a fictional plot.  It doesn’t play.  Not even “Looper” Bruce Willis or “Moonlighting” Bruce Willis could have overcome the stink of this whole Chernobyl plot line.  But worry not, because Willis doesn’t bring his A-game to this movie.  He treats it like a paycheck movie.  I have come to realize that Die Hard has become the cinematic equivalent of “fat sweat pants” to Bruce Willis.  It lulls him into not even trying.  As a result, his work in this movie is even worse than his work in Armageddon.   Ouch!

Working opposite Willis is Jai Courtney as his son, Jack.  Courtney recently played the heavy in Jack Reacher and after seeing these two performances I can tell you that he has the screen presence of an uncooked potato - Yes, uncooked.  The issue here is that not only is he a bad actor, but I suspect that he may also be a boring guy. My guess is that he is probably not the person you want to station yourself next to at a cocktail party.  His lack of charisma is a huge issue for this film since he receives as much screen time as Bruce Willis.  As for the rest of the cast, Cole Hauser (Pitch Black), Yuliya Snigir, Sebastian Koch, and Rasha Bukvic are adequate at best and could have been easily replaced by any other actor.  That Mary Elizabeth Winstead is only used in a cameo capacity is one of the more egregious offenses committed by the creative team.  She is a good actress who would have brought a lot more spunk to the narrative than anyone else in this cast.

So, I suspect that there are some who are going to watch this movie regardless of what anyone says.  You’ve seen the first four so you’re pot committed.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I am right there with you.  But for those of you on the fence, you probably don’t need to see this movie, even if you are an action/adrenaline junky.  There are titles upon titles upon titles that will give you more bang for your buck (or your time) sans the curmudgeonly old man jokes.  At best, it is a FX, TBS, TNT movie but even then you’ll probably regret losing those ninety-one minutes.  If you are a huge Bruce Willis nut, go rent Looper - his best work in the last ten years.  And if you’re a Jai Courtney fan, well then I guess there’s no accounting for taste.  

Standout Performance: Me for not using a joke like this one in the review: “The only thing that needs to Die Hard is this movie.”  ZING!


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