Yippie Ki Yay… Well, you know the rest. Die Hard redefined the action movie for modern audiences, with its everyman protagonist struggling to survive. He didn’t go out looking for a a fight, but there were no competent peace-keepers available, so the man did what he had to do, “and with a little help from Allen, John McClaine kicked ass,” as the song goes. Fast forward twenty-five years, and we are at the fifth entry in the series, A Good Day to Die Hard, a film which asks us the question, “What if John McClaine was thrown into a spy movie?” It also asks, “What if that spy movie was written by the incompetent hack who gave us such abortions as Hitman and Swordfish?” and, “What if it was directed by a man, John Moore, who had the ability to suck all tension and excitement out of an action movie, and all the soul and character out of a beloved-franchise?” If you have yet to use context clues to infer the answer, than you are just dumb and terrible enough to be the target audience for this movie.
After saving the hostages in the building, the innocents at the airport, the good people of New York City, and the entire United States, John takes a much-deserved vacation, which he keeps on reminding us of in his only recurring joke. The John McClaine we all know and love shouted quips and one-liners which have since entered the public lexicon as endearing-tough-guy-speak. This time around, he says, “Jesus!” and “I’m supposed to be on vacation!” about fifty times each, as if Bruce Willis was supposed to ad-lib something witty but the tired old man just didn’t give a damn. The director and the writer didn’t care, why should the star? And when I say tired, I mean it; he sleepwalks his way through this film, mumbling his dialogue, barely bothering to raise his gun when mowing down baddies, and basically letting his son and action-partner, played by Jai Courtney, do all the work. This backfires, however, because Jai, young and limber he may be, also seems to have mistaken his vitamins for Ambien, and is just as bored as Bruce. Is this not where the director is supposed to come in and tell the actors to not suck? Perhaps he thought that smashing cars and having large explosions would fix the myriad problems with the acting and the script. There are, in fact, explosions, but they don’t come close to fixing this massive disappointment.
The biggest problem with the film is that we have no connection to any of the characters, and we therefore cannot suspend our disbelief to follow them into whatever over-the-top situation they try to shoot their way out of. John McClaine goes to Russia, on his vacation, to support his son who is in trouble for killing some gangster (or state official, or something) and is caught in the middle of a grudge match between two old Russian officials; John Jr. is actually a CIA agent whose mission is to extract one of the old Russians who has incriminating evidence on the other. This part of the plot, with the old Russian farts, is actually the most interesting part of the film, with a couple of unexpected twists and a father-daughter sub-plot which is far more interesting than the father-son plot the McClaines are forced to drag themselves through. Just about everything else in the movie is a joke. We are not eased into the implausible fact that John Jr. is “the 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey,” we are just told it, and are expected to accept it. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with such a premise, but it simply does not mesh with the tone of Die Hard, or the themes of the series. It’s just a contrived plot device used to throw John McClaine into a movie he does not belong in, and a cheap crutch for the production team to throw a young person into the mix and lighten the physical load on Bruce Willis. Can you see the problem yet? Die Hard, a series in which the lead character’s goal is merely to survive by the skin of his teeth, thrives on our hero having no plan, but improvising on the spot, getting the crap kicked out of him, and kicking ass because if he doesn’t, the people he loves will die, be it his wife or his daughter. Basically, he gets dragged into his conflict. If it were up to McClaine, he would much rather do normal cop stuff, like paperwork or doughnuts or whatever a regular guy would like to do. Here, he gets a super spy, who is his son, to be an action hero, which upsets the entire premise of the series. Even unprecedented, it could still be done right; John and Jr. could have a strong rapport, a yin/yang, old/young, like Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang in last month’s well-written flop, Bullet to the Head. Needless to say at this point, A Good Day does not do it right. John Jr. is mad at his father for the first half of the film, then friendly with him in the second half. That’s it. Gimme a break.
In prior films, while there may be a bunch of somewhat disposable henchmen in the villain’s employ, we almost always get a handful of recurring faces, thugs with a modicum of character so that their deaths are well-deserved, cathartic, and memorable for the viewer. In the first Die Hard, we got to see just about every terrorist multiple times before they were killed; John would spy on them through the air ducts, they would bicker with each other, and we got to know them just enough so that we wouldn’t write their deaths off as anonymous. Though the body count rose in subsequent installments, we still got to see the bad guys multiple times before they would be killed, and we really got a feeling of how John McClaine, one man, was able to realistically impact the operations of the various bad guys. In A Good Day, we have a scene in which McClaine picks up a very large gun (the internet tells me it’s a M249) which he has no problem handling, and mows down literally dozens of ski mask-wearing bad guys as they run straight into the path of his fire. Anonymous, gratuitous, and bloodlessly sanitized, our hero kills more guys in thirty seconds than he did in the entire first film, and I didn’t care at all. With a couple of exceptions, the violence is this way throughout, with lots of shooting, lots of people falling down, but very little blood and gore; I’m no gore hound, but the level of violence is noticeably toned down from the previous films (citing, of course, the unrated version of Live Free or Die Hard, which is vastly superior to its PG-13 rated theatrical counterpart), and even the stunt work favors fast 3D camera movements which look nice, but distract us from the raw conflict we should be feeling. A biker girl is thrown into the mix, flashing us her sexy bikini body in one of the first scenes, and she’s set up to be important, but, to be honest, I can’t even remember what happens to her down the line. [NOTE: another female character who shows up later in the film is this biker character, but the line is not drawn clearly and I thought they were two different characters] Further, a number of scenes are punctuated by gratuitous slow motion, a technique which, if I’m not mistaken, was used exactly one time in all the previous four movies put together (the scene where Hans Gruber takes his final tumble out of the thirtieth floor of the Nakatomi Tower). I’m all for pushing the envelope, modernizing, and all that jazz, but this is Die Hard, not The Matrix, and everything, from the over emphasized-yet-completely-superfluous slow-mo effects, to the setting, to the phoned-in action sequences just feel like they came from some big-budgeted, small brained action flick, and stand against everything Die Hard represents. Even McClaine’s trademark, “Yippie Ki Yay, Motherfu*ker” seems completely obligatory, especially since it comes after a (shocking, for this movie) solid one-liner, though it does lead into the one stunt in the whole film that really feels like it belongs in a Die Hard movie… And then it gets ruined by McClaine flying through a window in agonizingly soulless and uninspired slow motion which actually ruins the stunt. Yeah, slow motion ruined a stunt. Only John Moore, right?
So… No, I didn’t like the movie. It’s really not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it has a loud car chase early on that will make some people happy, and some of the spy game plot twists are pretty cool, but the fact is that this is Die Hard in name only. John McClaine is unrecognizable, he plays second fiddle to his son, and he has exactly zero memorable lines. Unacceptable. A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but I’ll be goddamned if it’s not among the most disappointing. Better luck next time. When Die Hard came out in 1988, it dragged the action film, kicking and screaming, out of the era of muscle-bound heroes like Arnold Schwarzanegger. My final word, and the reason why A Good Day to Die Hard is a failure, is that there’s nothing in this movie that Arnold Schwarzanegger could not have done.