Thirty minutes into John Moore’s “A Good Day to Die Hard”, the fifth entry in the continued adventures of New York supercop John McClane, we’ve already seen a car chase involving multiple vehicles destroy what seems like half of Moscow (or whatever city is standing in for Moscow). I honestly don’t know how they managed this, but I would imagine the film production must have spent half of its budget on this single ridiculous and over-the-top sequence alone. Of course, this is just the beginning, because “A Good Day to Die Hard” is a movie about shit blowing up, people blowing shit up, and when you think all the shit blowing up has run its shit blowing course, yes, even more shit blows up. (I feel like I’m justified in using saucy language in this review because the film is Rated R. And if you think otherwise, tough shit.)
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is not so much a “Die Hard” movie as it is an action movie that happens to star Bruce Willis, and whose character in the film happens to be named John McClane. In that respect, it has a lot in common with the third and fourth installments, which were good action movies that had long ago abandoned their, well, “Die Hard”-ness (re: lone guy trapped behind enemy lines). Starting with the hilariously entertaining “Die Hard With a Vengeance”, you could see that the franchise was already morphing into a more generic action movie series, the kind where you could grab any decently written action movie script and fashion it into a “Die Hard” entry. (That’s actually how they ended up with parts 3 and 4, in case you were wondering.) It’s somewhat amusing to note that the original “Die Hard” had such an instantly winning formula that it spawned a number of imitators, with not one, but two “Die Hard in the White House” movies on the way this year alone.
In “A Good Day to Die Hard”, we meet Jack McClane (Jai Courtney, last seen battling Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher”), the wayward son of John. After the elder McClane is alerted to his son’s jailing in Moscow on murder charges, our hero jets off to Mother Russia, driven to the airport by daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, last seen as the token offspring in the previous installment). Faced with a neverending army of machinegun toting Russian thugs, Jack (who is revealed to be a CIA undercover spook) and his estranged pop manage to put their mutual antagonism aside just long enough to do what Mcclanes do best, which is blow shit up and kill people. Lots and lots of people. German actor Sebastian Koch co-stars as a Russian with something the bad guys want, and it’s up to the McClanes to keep him and his McGuffin safe. If there’s more to the plot than that, I honestly didn’t catch it. Or maybe I did catch it, but just prefer to forget about it.
I’ll give director John Moore (of “Max Payne” fame) this, he sure likes destroying glass. Well, he likes destroying pretty much anything and everything, but the man seems to have a special hatred for all things shiny and breakable. With the McClanes running from a slew of generic Russian bad guys (and one hot to trot Yuliya Snigir) popping out from around every corner, there are plenty of property damage to be had. Forget about gritty realism or even semi-realism, there is nary an impossible-to-survive situation that the McClanes don’t walk away from. “A Good Day to Die Hard” is like a comic book movie sans tights. At this point in the 25-year old franchise, it’s a given that they’ll have to push the envelope just a little bit further to stand out. They, um, certainly give it the ol college try here, or at least spent enough money at it to keep things respectable.
Moore directs from a script by Skip Woods (“Swordfish”), who gets the McClanes from one action scene to another, so I guess he did his job, if not much else. The quips between father and son before, during, and after each gunbattle is both amusing and groan-inducing, but Courtney does hold his own on the action front, at times looking like a leaner and more in-shape version of John McClane circa 1986. As for McClane, he’s a lot older, but still scrappy and dangerous when provoked, and Willis plays his supercop with a smirk and a been-there, done-all-that expression that I found, for some reason, oddly endearing. The lesser McClane comes close to being punchable at times, but I blame that on the script and not Courtney, who should have a pretty long career shooting people in action movies if that’s where he ends up. Hey, it beats digging ditches, right?
At around 90 minutes, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is easily the shortest “Die Hard” film yet, and the “R” rating certainly gets put to good use. The McClanes amass an impressive bodycount, as if father and son were trying to top one another. (Boys, boys, you’re both efficient killing machines.) Unfortunately after a while it becomes a bit deadening, replete with last-minute saves that belong in action movie parodies instead of a film that’s trying to take itself seriously. (John Moore and company were trying to take this seriously, right?) There are nods to the original “Die Hard” throughout the film that should elicit chuckles from longtime fans, while at the same time reminding audiences of just how great that first movie was 25 years ago.
John Moore (director) / Skip Woods (screenplay)
CAST: 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