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Good Day to Die Hard, A

20th Century Fox // R // February 14, 2013
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 14, 2013 | E-mail the Author
First things first: The Die Hard sequels can never be Die Hard. Despite a handful of cheesy moments, the original film is a masterpiece of action movie engineering. The writing and acting are top-notch all by themselves, but it's John McTiernan's brilliant direction that sets the movie head and shoulders above 99% of the genre, and the trajectory of Die Hard 2 (love it or hate it) established that key plot elements and the McClane character would be the backbone of the franchise, rather than strong direction (note that each entry in the series has been stylistically different from the others).

Personally (and I've written about this at length), I enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard. Despite the PG-13 rating that kept the film from matching the original's intensity and edginess, Len Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback (and Bruce Willis, now a guardian of the series) worked hard to keep the aforementioned plot elements, tone, and character of McClane intact. Many complain that McClane has transformed into invincible superman, but what made the character special was his emotional vulnerability (even if physical vulnerability made the action more compelling). The idea of John as an average guy goes away when extraordinary things happen to him more than once, and there's honestly no expectation that McClane is actually going to die. With regards to the rating, any good character is more than surface elements like language and cigarettes (or hair), and McClane is no exception: never a volunteer but motivated by the need to act, acts on instinct and not strategy, dislikes authority, has a wry sense of humor, and struggles to get along with members of his own family. Live Free is slick entertainment, but it's good slick entertainment that understands the franchise it's a part of.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth in what Willis reportedly envisions to be a six-film franchise. Having worked things out with his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), McClane's newest goal is to deal with his son, Jack (Jai Courtney). John's just discovered that Jack is being held in a Russian prison, so he flies to foreign soil to try and find out what happened. Many of the same character elements that define McClane are present, but 20th Century Fox's go-to hack director John Moore seems dead-set on ruining the formula. Through obnoxious shaky cam, sloppy editing, and aggressively insipid direction of a mediocre screenplay, Moore proves himself unable to stick even the tiniest moment, rendering all of those series' trademarks painfully perfunctory and entirely tone-deaf. Moore's work here is so bad it prevents the movie from even being an anonymous 21st century popcorn diversion.

Moore shares a couple of traits in common with Wiseman: he loves the traditional teal and orange palette of modern action movies (boring), and he has some interest in practical effects (good). Unfortunately, the impressive effort by Moore's stunt team on a massive car chase near the beginning of the film is completely ruined by his inability to hold a shot, either steady or for long enough, for the audience to understand who's where and doing what. Actually, the movie's atrocious cutting starts before the chase does: instead of establishing any sort of motivation for McClane to join the fracas, he starts screaming at people (including himself), steals a car, and starts chasing the villains, without any actual knowledge of what's going on or why. Cavalier destruction can be fun if the tone is right (screenwriter Skip Woods also wrote the highly-entertaining A-Team movie), but McClane comes off more like the ultimate ugly American, causing millions of dollars in damage to innocent civilians' property mere minutes after he gets off the plane, not to mention his bizarre yelling makes it seem like he's lost his mind (it might be a good day to diagnose dementia).

Things do not improve from there. Similar to the "Unrated" version of its predecessor, A Good Day to Die Hard refuses to commit to the violence or language. Some CG arterial spray and the occasional f-bomb (many added in post-production) aside, this R-rated outing manages feels more neutered than even the PG-13 previous film, which at least offered brutality in line with, say, Casino Royale or the Bourne franchise. Excepting a single death ripped from not only Die Hard but another Bruce Willis action-comedy, there's no impact to any of the violence on display, whether it's villainous Russians, or McClane himself. At least in the last film, Willis played McClane with a nice weariness, uncertainty, and occasional exhaustion; this time he survives two rollover accidents in the first twenty minutes without as much as a pause before hopping out of the wreckage. McClane's sense of humor is arguably the most successful returning element, but even that's slim pickings. A conversation with a singing cabbie (Pasha D. Lychnikoff) generates some Die Hard vibes, but McClane is funniest when he's got something strong to play off of, and in most of A Good Day, McClane is playing to himself. In a desperate attempt to beef things up, Moore offers his weirdest touch: he and his sound editors have created what equates to a McClane soundboard during action sequences, consisting of "Jack!", "Jesus!", "I'm on vacation!" (which, it should be said, he is not), and a line from the fourth film ("Is that your best shot?"), all peppered in without rhyme or reason. McClane's catchphrase (heard in full) is wasted on an attempt to find a casual twist on tradition.

Willis has been notoriously sleepy-eyed in many of his 21st century movies, but he actually seems upbeat here, ready for action. Moore responds by giving his character a minimal amount of dialogue and even screen time, favoring Jack over John. Of course, this does Courtney no favors; he's okay but has no role to play other than "a guy who hates his father," and the two can't build chemistry without any foundation. The villains (there are three) are even blander than Timothy Olyphant's hacker from the previous film, with at least two suffering from having been written to echo Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber. Moore slams the final nails in the coffin with dirt-dull compositions that both detract from the action and are frequently boring (notice how often there's nothing in the frame besides the characters and a distant wall), and his handling of the sentimental material is even worse. By the time the movie's sappy final freeze frame settles into place, there's no doubting A Good Day to Die Hard is the series' worst entry, a victim of a bankrupt culture and the product of someone who saw too many movies as a child.

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