Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (Chris Bumbray's take)
PLOT: John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia to see his estranged son- Jack (Jai Courtney) who's been arrested for murder. Turns out, Jack is a CIA agent tasked with retrieving an infamous Russian political prisoner- Yuri (Sebastian Koch), with links to Chernobyl.
REVIEW: DIE HARD as we knew it ended a long time ago. 1995's WITH A VENGEANCE was the last hurrah, and many of us were puzzled by 2007' s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, which seemed to re-imagine McClane as a superhero. This was a stark departure from the rugged, relatable hero from the first three films. Having seen A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, I'm almost sorry for being so hard on LIVE FREE's director Len Wiseman on my recent review of the Blu-ray box set, as that film- despite its many faults, is much better than this new “extreme” variation on the franchise.
John Moore- who's directed such films as BEHIND ENEMY LINES (his best movie by far), the FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX remake, THE OMEN remake (just awful) and MAX PAYNE, is the new guy behind the camera. Granted, that's not a filmography that inspires much confidence, but even if Moore was on the level of someone like John McTiernan, I doubt he could have done much with this. Skip Woods' script doesn't feel at all like a DIE HARD. Sure, a character named John McClane has been shoehorned in, but other than a few wisecracks, he doesn't seem to be anything like the guy present in the rest of the franchise. In the single strangest development in the series yet, the move was made to have McClane, unthinkably, play second banana to a new hero, his son, played by SPARTACUS' Jai Courtney.
To be fair to Courtney- he's not bad, but his part makes no sense. Throughout the whole film, Jack seems to hate John- even pointing a gun at him early on. Why does Jack hate him so much? What has John done? This is never revealed, and their conflict is all but forgotten when the carnage kicks in. But, by not explaining it, Jack comes off as a whiny, unlikable character. Is he mad at his Dad for saving his mom Holly not once, but twice- not to mention the whole of NYC in WITH A VENGEANCE, and possibly the whole world, along with his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead returns for a cameo) in LIVE FREE? And while Courtney looks OK in the action scenes, Jack has no personality outside of being an entitled brat. If he's being poised to take over the series, he'll need to be fleshed out a whole lot.
Similar to LIVE FREE, the villains are once again weak. The generic Russian baddie is incredibly poor, and his muscle bound comrades, one of whom (I'm not kidding) spends all of his screen-time greased up and shirtless, are no better. Only Sebastian Koch- as Yuri, brings a bit of gravitas to the proceedings, while Yuliya Snigir is memorable in that she's drop-dead gorgeous (although her stripping out of the leather catsuit scene is cut short in the finished film- boo).
The only one who works, obviously, is Willis- but even he's not able to make A GOOD DAY worth watching. Some of his quips are OK, some are painful (especially his attempt to make a new catch-phrase with “I'm on vacation!!!”)- and worse, I'd wager McClane is more often CGI than he is Willis or even a stuntman in any of the action scenes, all of which are ridiculously amped-up.
Running a quick ninety-seven minutes, I will admit there's a lot of action here. The opening car chase is ludicrous, but relatively decent (if confusingly shot and cut), but after that, the dozens of gunfights are tedious. The worst of it is that everything is so jacked-up, from the cutting, to the explosions, to the CGI, to the carnage- it's all a cartoon.. The great thing about DIE HARD is that, no matter how crazy it got, McClane always seemed to be in danger. Here- he can dodge a helicopter blade, and fall four stories through window after window without a scratch. Where's the McClane who limped through the end of the first movie because his feet were so cut up?
Of course, I'm aware that it's unfair to compare this too much to the first movie, which, after all- is a classic. Even if A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD had been a a passable if generic action flick, I would have been satisfied. It's not even close to that- although Marco Beltrami's score- which echoes Kamen's themes from the early movies, tries to make you think you're watching something exciting. It's not. Even the R-rating, which seems harsh, and was probably only given to allow John to say his catch-phrase in all it's glory (the one area this delivers). Besides that- what little blood there is seems to have been CGI'd after the fact, and McClane's handful of F-bombs were likely dubbed in. For the UK audience which is getting a cut version, don't worry too much. It's probably not all that different a film, as this feels like a PG-13 hastily made R (a rare occurrence).
Even though I hated LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, I really wanted to like A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD against all odds. It's really too bad that it fails so completely on so many levels that it ranks as the absolute nadir of the series. If there ever is another DIE HARD, it needs to be scaled down considerably- but at this point, I'm not even sure it would be worth it. Maybe it's time to let this franchise go. Damn.