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Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard Movie Review

The original "Die Hard" had the simplest of plots: a cop is trapped in a skyscraper that's been taken over by terrorists. It spawned a series of formulaic copycats - including its own 1990 sequel - of the guy-trapped-in-a-place genre. Boat ("Under Siege"), train ("Under Siege 2"), plane ("Passenger 57"), bus ("Speed"), cruise ship ("Speed 2"). Even a hockey rink ("Sudden Death"). You name it, a terrorist has tried to take it over on film.

By the third "Die Hard" in the series, 1995's "Die Hard with a Vengeance", the concept of location had been expanded to include New York City. Then by 2007's barely passable "Live Free or Die Hard", they pretty much dispensed with everything but Bruce Willis, though at least there was still a terrorist plot and a comic foil as counterpoint to Mr. Willis' increasingly meatheaded John McClane. With "A Good Day to Die Hard", the franchise - which is second only to "The Fast and The Furious" for ridiculous titles - has been reduced to, as McClane continually reminds us, "killing bad guys".

In "A Good Day", McClane jets off to Moscow to reunite with his estranged son, who's been sent to prison for shooting a man in a nightclub. McClane seemingly takes a taxi from the airport directly to the scene of a terrorist bombing. The guy just can't help it.


Director John Moore ("Max Payne", that explains it) has clearly been given the mission to "shoot this like a Bourne movie". And so we have lots of hand-held camera and a noisy, protracted car chase that is not only incomprehensible but also paints McClane as something of a sociopath (try not to think about the innocent bystanders that get in his way).

It turns out, McClane's son (played gruntingly by Jai Courtney who - while they were clearly going for a Channing Tatum type - is no Channing Tatum) wants nothing to do with dear old dad. Can't imagine why. And so there are a few perfunctory scenes of father-son bonding in between gunfire, shattered glass and squandered opportunities.

By giving McClane an equally beefy son, there was the possibility of some kind of passing of the torch. But Mr. Courtney doesn't have an ounce of the charisma of his onscreen dad. For that matter neither do the film's villains, not that they are at all memorable (even the one who...sigh...dances).

It's clear the film isn't interested in anything but getting from one action scene to the next - even if it means driving from Moscow to Chernobyl in the course of one scene. Yes, that Chernobyl. Because, either this script was pulled out of some post-Cold War dustbin, or it's the only other vaguely Russian thing screenwriter Skip Woods ("Swordfish", that explains it) has ever heard of. The fact that Chernobyl isn't actually in Russia is never mentioned.

John McClane used to outsmart his villains, now he's just a blunt instrument, effectively yelling "McClane smash!" in between occasional wisecracks. It's now impossible to imagine Alan Rickman's iconic Hans Gruber from the first film running afoul of this current incarnation of  McClane. The only thing that has died hard is the integrity of this franchise.

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