Theatrical Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Jack McClane, the estranged son of New York Police Detective John McClane is now living in Russia and has gotten himself caught up in some nasty bit of business that has him ready to be sent to jail. John McClane, wanting to do the right thing, plans a little “vacation” to Russia to see what he can do for his son. Of course, once John McClane gets there all hell starts to break loose as he soon discovers the real reasons why his son is there.

That’s a real loose description to the premise to A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth film in the Die Hard series, all featuring star Bruce Willis as the intrepid John McClane. It’s also the latest in a series of action films featuring the return of big name action stars of the 80s and 90s doing what they do best. This started with Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables and has continued with the recent releases of The Last Stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bullet to the Head again with Stallone. All of these have been fun movies which I’ve certainly enjoyed.

I guess it was time that the streak ended. It’s just a shame it has to do it with the Die Hard series.

A Good Day to Die Hard comes to us from director John Moore, who’s previously directed films like Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne and the re-makes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix, and screenwriter Skip Woods, who’s written such movies as The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Swordfish. Of Moore’s movies, I actually like Behind Enemy Lines a great deal, but thought he faltered with the others and there’s aspects of Woods’ prior work that I like , but I don’t think the whole of each ever quite came together. The thing is, I find it pretty hard to blame either of these guys totally for the mess that A Good Day to Die Hard is.

No, instead I’ll blame the bigwigs at 20th Century Fox for wanting to put this in production. They’re trying to keep it on the cheap by moving it’s production entirely out of this country and not wanting to invest in ay sort of casting beyond Willis that could’ve brought more to the table. I think both Moore and Woods fit into the budget that Fox wanted to give this and rushed this into production to get it to ride this wave of action star comebacks.

Other than Willis being here as McClane in name only, there’s really nothing here that says this is even a Die Hard movie in the first place. The set-up of the tension between the McClanes is ill-conceived, the action is way over-the-top in the most cartoonish of ways, there’s nothing to make you give a damn about either of the McClanes (who of course are both invincible to everything that gets thrown at them) and the villains of this piece are nowhere near the same league as what has been seen in the prior films.

Hitting a couple of these points individually, yeah sure, you expect John McClane to save the day in these films, that’s certainly a given. Some of the nicer aspects in the first three movies show at least a hint of vulnerability in the action, especially the first film. I mean who can ever forget the idea that John McClane is running about Nakatomi Plaza in just a t-shirt and pants and has that grueling bit of having to cross a floor filled with glass in his bare feet? That sort of thing gets carried through the movie, but here, Jack McClane gets a hunk of metal lodged into his gut, takes it out and doesn’t feel a thing the rest of the film.

A hallmark of the other films are really good villains that get as much good show as Willis does. Alan Rickman, William Sadler, John Amos and Timothy Olyphant all had good turns in the prior films to various degrees, but here our villainous side of the cast is made up of foreign actors who you simply will not remember after the film ends. They may very well be top-notch talents, but this film doesn’t give them the opportunity to really show it. Again, I’ll blame the idea of a rushed production that doesn’t give it’s writer the chance to do some memorable work with these characters.

Instead, this film hopes to succeed on the idea of John McClane being there and churning out a few one-liners while big-ass fireworks are going off in the background. It hopes you’ll get invested in it emotionally with it’s tired trope of the strained relationship between the father and the son and it all just feels like it’s in there by rote more than anything else.

As much as I want to blame Fox for this, I also have to throw some of that credit Willis’ way as well. I’d like to think that Fox is holding something over his head by committing him to this, but you’d still like to think he’d know better. Bruce Willis is certainly still capable of good action work as witnessed most recently in last year’s Looper, but here, it’s more like he’s just running this by the numbers and just cashing the check. Jai Courtney is cast as his son, Jack, and I think he’s certainly got the physical chops for this sort of thing, but there’s really nothing there in the character to get behind other than the fact that he’s John McClane’s son.

Supposedly, there’s still a sixth movie in this franchise to come and the idea there is that it’ll be the last in the series as well. I’d like to think that this franchise could still be brought back to glory as long as Fox doesn’t rush it into production and takes the time to invest in a script that lets you get fully behind it’s characters and a director who can show you just how special the Die Hard film series is. I’d like to think that anyway… but if A Good Day to Die Hard is any indication of how Fox wants to take this series, then maybe they should just let it die with this one. Your best bet here- miss this one entirely and watch any of the other ones (preferably any of the first three) again, you’ll have a far better time.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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