Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, directed by John Moore (98 min.)

A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth entry into the John McClane franchise, fails on just about every level concerning what made this franchise so legendary over the years. This person inhabiting this character I have grown up with no longer exists. I have a close relationship with the Die Hard series, I pin it as my most defining, and here I feel like something has been ripped away from my childhood. The John McClane I remember was a normal man who felt pain, whose sarcasm felt natural and easy, who used intuition and cunning to outsmart the villains in front of him. This John McClane has no resemblance of our original hero. Here is a cartoon character in a carton movie with no heart, no logic, no wit, and nothing beyond its glossy surface.

I refuse to acknowledge this as a Die Hard film.

Bruce Willis is back, of course, as John McClane, the New York cop who manages to stumble into one catastrophic terrorist attack after another. But Bruce looks tired, disinterested from the weak opening all the way to the final freeze frame. McClane gets word that his wayward son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested in Russia, and he heads overseas to help him out. John and his son have not been friendly over the years, have not spoken in forever, and the relationship is beyond strained. Which leads me to my first issue where the events of these recent Die Hard films don’t match up: so you’re telling me the man who saved his wife from certain death twice, saved New York, and saved his teenage daughter, is a poor father obsessed with his work? And this guy has not been there for his kids, but he is flying all the way to Russia to bail his son out? I don’t buy it.

Naturally, as soon as McClane lands in Russia basically a gunfight and car chase breaks out involving his son and a witness to protect who has access to “the file.” You know the one, the McGuffin in just about every action movie of this ilk. The plot is water thin and nothing more than a thread to push forward the nauseating and over-the-top action. Cars crash in creative ways, buildings explode, and we get no less than TWO separate scenes involving a battle chopper blasting apart a building. In 98 minutes director John Moore (who butchered Max Payne and Behind Enemy Lines prior to this) can’t manage to avoid action scene duplication. McClane and his son pull of obscene stunts which were not a part of the first three films. Sure, Die Hard With a Vengeance has its own absurdity, but it still fits within the framework of the story and our hero feels real pain. Remember how broken and beaten McClane was at the end of the third film? That doesn’t exist here.

Most of the dialogue is lost in the shuffle, and Willis’ wisecracks fall flat one after another because they are forced and unfunny. In the original film especially, the emotional pull lies within John reconciling with his wife. Even in the second or third film the stakes felt real to an extent. Here, they try that same thing with John trying to make things right with his kid, but there is little impact because we now know these characters aren’t real. We knew they were acting before, but it was less obvious. And these films thrive on their villains, which is why the first and third films (starring Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons as the villains, respectively) are the strongest. Die Hard: Mission to Moscow doesn’t really have a clear villain. It is this person at one point, another one as the story goes along, and a “behind-the-scenes” villain is wiped out without ever having an impact.

Since John McClane has morphed into a cartoon character, feeling little pain after flipping TWO cars (another repeat action sequence) or falling through rows and rows of scaffolding after leaping through a window, then there is little reason to care about him, what he is doing, or what he says. And by the time he is being swung around in the air by a car hanging off the back of a helicopter, I had given up. If their truly is a sixth film in the works, things must be readjusted. And can we please, for the love of god, forgive John McTienran (who directed the first and third in the franchise) of his legal issues and get him back behind the camera?