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Continuing 2013’s celebration of the old action star behind Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand and Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head, fifty-seven-year-old Bruce Willis throws his Rascal into the fray by reviving the best-known character of his career.  In A Good Day to Die Hard, Willis returns to the big screen to play John McClane, the role that transformed the star of the TV rom-com, Moonlighting, into an international action hero.

Getting on in years can be a bittersweet thing. Sentiment and time make for a lonely combination. What’s so bad about a guy wanting to rebuild burnt bridges with estranged relatives, especially their own children?  It’s this motivation that sees creaky NYPD detective John McClane on a plane flying across the hemisphere to seek out his grown son who hasn’t spoken to him in years.  Unfortunately for McClane, even though all the intel points to the young man being in deep trouble with the Russian government, Jack doesn’t seem to appreciate of being saved by the McClane cavalry.  Unbeknownst to John, Jack is actually a CIA operative on a mission to extract a prisoner out of Moscow and into the hands of the US, where he can share some crucial information.  The US is not the only one out for this intelligence and that’s where things get sticky. Add in one non-Russian-speaking geriatric cop with a knack for being at the center of a crisis and young Jack’s well-planned operation goes down the Gulag.

One of the key ingredients of the Die Hard franchise’s success was the simple point that John McClane didn’t go looking for trouble; it just magically seemed to find him. Whether flying to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife in the first film, or picking up said spouse at the airport in the second, or being set upon in movie three by the disgruntled relative of a character from film one, bad guys just seem compelled to mess with John McClane’s day.  It was the Everyman being plunged into a situation he neither expected nor asked for.  The escapist fun was in knowing that the guy was a NYC cop and therefore a little more capable in dangerous situations, but by no means was he Superman.  That important formula is thrown completely out the window in A Good Day to Die Hard; right from the jump McClane is trouble-bound when he hurtles into Russia, a place where he speaks neither the language nor knows anyone who can help him, but expects to somehow bluster through and free his son.  The heroic deeds committed by McClane in this film are the stuff of GI Joe or Rambo, not some-retirement age flatfoot: He retains barely a bruise much less a hip injury emerging from a gravity-defying car chase, or handling increasingly powerful automatic weapons, or falling about a dozen stories through construction scaffolding.  This supernatural indestructability is not what we expect from the very human, injury-prone character we’ve known since 1988, but then there’s precious little in this movie to identify John McClane to us.  When McClane inexorably utters the famous Die Hard catchphrase, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother…” etc, it is creaky, clumsy and completely obligatory.  The writers of this film apparently thought that making the character brash and obnoxious in the mode of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and similarly chalking the behaviour up to being from the Garden State was cute.  The cheekiness wears thin quick despite the endless torrent of McClane’s side-of-the-mouth one-liners.  The demolition derby chase at the start of the film sees both father and son nonsensically yelling expletives only the audience can hear and flipping the bird at the pursuing drivers like they’re on the Turnpike at rush hour instead of in a fight for their lives.  Another factor in the previous films’ success were its villains; each one had some sort of mesmerising charm or personality (Well, maybe not so much William Sadler in Die Hard 2, but at least there was an identifiable character.).  The dance-happy Russian mobster in this movie is a clown and the bad guys behind him totally unmemorable.  We’ve fallen very far since Alan Rickman’s unforgettable Hans Gruber.  The worst bit (of the many) in A Good Day to Die Hard is the introduction of McClane’s son; a muscle-bound ball of daddy-issues with all the emotional maturity of a pouty fifteen-year-old.  Though referred to constantly, we never quite find out what exactly John did that was so terrible to leave his son roiling in wah-wah emo.  Jack’s stunted behaviour would never have passed an NYPD psych test, much less qualified him as a spy for the CIA.  Jack‘s flying into rages at being thwarted and particularly in the presence of his old man scared me much more than the tap-happy Russian gangster.  Also, he’s simply not the brightest bulb in the chandelier; leaving his father to figure out the answers to their various dilemmas, usually by virtue of simple common sense.  How did he make it this far in the Agency with such limited brain power and temper?  I wouldn’t trust this dude to successfully guide an old lady across the street, much less spirit precious cargo out of a foreign country.  The constant son/father antagonism is immediately tedious and stops the film for long-winded squabbles at wildly inappropriate times.  It even wears down Bruce Willis’ undeniable charm inside John McClane’s skin, but substituting smart-aleck one-liners for character development doesn’t help.  Pacing, momentum and believability are words that were clearly never introduced to director John Moore, resulting in a film that is a dumb, noisy mess.

A missed opportunity was to build a story around or at least include McClane’s smart, sensible daughter instead of the steroidy-looking hotheaded son. Lucy, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, makes a brief bookend appearance and seems a perfect combination of Willis and Bonnie Bedelia, who was such a great foil as McClane’s tough, canny wife in the first two films.  I would have liked to see someone relate to McClane in the intelligent and wry way Bedelia did that gave the pair chemistry and depth and choosing the son to team up with was not the way to go.

A Good Day to Die Hard is an utter waste of time for any but those desperate for overlong car chases and not-particularly-special pyrotechnics.  This movie stinks of some generic action script lying around for years, that some brilliant mind cynically decided to copy and paste the name John McClane into, hoping viewers who loved the character would plunk their money down, ignoring how wretched the story is.  Fans of the Die Hard franchise have every right to be insulted as should any movie lover with half a brain.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 15th, 2013





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