Bang! Boom! Thud. Yippee ki-yawn.
By Ann Hornaday
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Armed and ludicrous, John McClane is back in “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth installment of the beloved franchise starring Bruce Willis. As the New York cop who never met a problem he couldn’t shoot or drive out of, Willis brings his characteristic deadpan cool to a role he originated in the 1980s, a long-past era that the movie addresses head-on when a villain reminds McClane that “it’s not 1986 . . . and Reagan is dead.”
That self-referential aside may inspire viewers to question what, if anything, the “Die Hard” franchise means 25 years after its inception, when jingoism and gunplay aren’t the automatic crowd-pleasers they once were. As the ultimate ugly American, McClane is now cutting his destructive swath through Moscow, where there’s seemingly always a gun or a bomb at the ready, and where he casually hijacks a sport-utility vehicle while cursing its driver for getting in
"I'm on vacation" is one of McClane's tag lines in "A Good Day to Die Hard" — except, well, he isn't. He's come to Mother Russia in order to find out what’s happened to his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), a chip off the sullen, aggressive block who’s managed to land in a Moscow prison. Supposedly a study in father-son psychodrama, “A Good Day to Die Hard” delves into John and Jack’s relationship just enough to provide support for the action it’s a delivery system for -- much like the layers of scaffolding the two fall through in one of the film’s repetitive, frantically filmed set pieces.
Brought to the screen by John Moore, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is staged and choreographed as if by a bored toddler, its jittery car chases, hyperkinetic explosions and ham-handed gunfights piling up with wanton randomness until they culminate in a you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate stunt involving a whirling helicopter, a dangling truck and a gruesomely absurd bit of business with a propeller.
None of it makes any sense, even within the no-rules world of Skip Woods’s rushed, incoherent script (which makes 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard” look like a Golden Age masterpiece by comparison). From the outset, when McClane arrives in Moscow and takes a cab ride that literally goes nowhere -- literally -- “A Good Day to Die Hard” makes it clear that its prime purpose isn’t crisp storytelling or even modest character development, but simply generating its approved quota of testosterone-drenched wammies in less than two hours.
This mission the film carries out efficiently, with a bracingly brief running time and a lack of self-seriousness that makes “A Good Day to Die Hard” slightly more enjoyable than recent offerings from Willis’s contemporaries Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. If McClane’s sarcastic one-liners and New Jersey jokes never quite stick their landings, Willis himself still goes through the film’s cartoonish motions with his signature grim aplomb, delivering his profane catchphrase almost as an afterthought. Both assaultive and tiresome, “A Good Day to Die Hard” barely registers on the action movie Richter scale. It goes bang, it goes boom, and then it blessedly goes away.
Contains violence and language.