Review: A Good Day to Die Hard — Not dead, but dying
The Die Hard franchise has been with us for twenty-five years now and true to its titular connotation it has been a dependable source of awesome action and entertainment over the course of its four previous films. But with A Good Day to Die Hard the durable Bruce Willis vehicle has lost much of its previously infallible spark.
As an observer and self-proclaimed connoisseur of pop culture I’d like to suggest a new cinematic “condition” that occurs when an aging action film franchise attempts to revive itself by adding the main protagonist’s estranged child to its cast in a misguided attempt to manufacture unnecessary family melodrama. Perhaps this affliction should be called “Crystal Skull Syndrome” (in reference to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.) Regardless of this disorder’s name, A Good Day to Die Hard certainly has a bad case of it.
The plot of A Good Day to Die Hard is terribly convoluted and improbable, with a hefty dose of incredulity thrown in just to add a little eyebrow-raising spice; so as a fan of Bruce Willis and his vulnerable, yet somehow indestructible, John McClane character, this latest outing was a major disappointment for me.
With A Good Day, Director John Moore (of sub-standard action flick and video game adaptation, Max Payne, fame) and screenwriter Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) have attempted to take McClane international by having the action set in Russia with the hero going up against a terrorist group trying to procure nuclear weapons in a James Bond style manner. McClane even jokes at one point that his CIA agent son is the “Double-O-Seven of Plainfield, New Jersey;” and I swear at one point I even heard a few chords of the 007 theme.
The film begins with Officer McClane being informed that his son, Jack (Jai Courtney from the Spartacus cable-TV series), has been arrested in Russia for killing a corrupt politician. So before you can say, “Yippee-ki-yay,” the old man flies to Moscow to pull Junior’s fat out of the fire. But it turns out that Jack has grown up to be an undercover CIA agent on a mission to obtain a file, belonging to a Russian criminal called Komarov (Sebastian Koch), that contains information regarding weapons grade uranium hidden inside the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.
Komarov won’t give up the file until Jack and John help him get his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir), to safety. But (as so often happens with kids) Irina deceives her father, setting him (and the McClanes) up in order to capture the file for herself and her gang of Russian thugs, including a carrot-chomping dancer named, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), who somehow avoids an obligatory Bugs Bunny quip from McCLane and a climactic battle with the senior action hero. Come on, Skip Woods!
After enough ammunition is fired to fuel several gun lovers’ fantasies for life, the McClanes meet the bad guys in Chernobyl for the ultimate showdown, that is, after the location has been scrubbed of radiation by some sort of miraculous handheld anti-roentgen spray (and there’s that pesky & pungent bit of incredulity I mentioned earlier.) It’s John & son against a small army of Russian terrorists and overwhelming odds – there can only be one logical outcome.
At 58 years old, Willis still has the chops to pull off his most iconic character and he’s armed with a full magazine of fun one liners that are strangely targeted mostly towards his son; but his “I’m on vacation” routine wears thin very quickly, especially when his trip to Russia is never intended as a “vacation” in the first place. The veteran action star seems to be sleeping through much of his performance in A Good Day, but to be fair, he’s done it so many times he can probably play the part in his sleep, literally.
There is a litany of problems with A Good Day to Die Hard, from a high-speed chase through the busy streets of Moscow where the vehicle action is periodically sped-up to cartoonish levels, to a gratuitous 3-second spot of sexy Russian actress (and real-life Chess Master), Yuliya Snigir, disrobing from her leather jumpsuit (don’t get too excited – the tease you see in the trailer is all you will get in the actual movie) – and don’t forget the aforementioned anti-radiation spray.
The last fifteen minutes of A Good Day is very exciting and satisfying, and a fine contribution to the McClane saga, so the film is not a complete bust; but overall this outing is more misses than hits and makes for a better trailer than it does a 90-minute movie. I doubt this film will kill the Die Hard franchise, but it has caused some life-threatening damage. Grade: 6/10
Photos © 2013 – Twentieth Century Fox