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21 Feb 2013

'A Good Day to Die Hard' Is Missing All the Fun of Previous Installments

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Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard. Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard.

Bruce Willis returns in A Good Day to Die Hard as trouble magnet John McClane—and he looks lost, tired and miserable. One gets the sense that Willis realized he was in a dud, and spiritually clocked out well before the shoot was over.

Willis seems to have a lot of power over all Die Hard production proceedings, and since he’s the star, most of the blame falls on his shoulders. The fact that they gave directing chores to the hackneyed John Moore (who directed the horrifically stinky Owen Wilson yawner Behind Enemy Lines) would be the first big mistake. Allowing Skip Wood (The A-Team, Hitman, Swordfish) to write it could also be chalked up as a big gaffe. I mean, doesn’t that creative combo just cry “suckage”?

They are obviously running out of scenarios for McClane, so this one sends him to Russia, where his estranged son Jack (the dull Jai Courtney) has gotten himself into an espionage jam. McClane knows this, because one of his cop friends hands him one of those files with all of the info in it, because L.A. cops have all sorts of intelligence in Russia.

So John hops a plane, gets stuck in traffic, and immediately finds himself in an explosive car chase—during which he happens to run into his son. They have a little spat; Jack refuses to call him “Dad”; and John picks up a gun, smirks and becomes part of the mission.

There are none of the things that made previous Die Hard films so fun. There is no distinguishable bad guy going up against John; the film completely lacks a sense of humor; and it looks drab. All of the other Die Hard films had that peppy action-movie look and feel. This one looks like a poor man’s Saving Private Ryan, and Saving Private Ryan was actually funnier than this movie.

They can’t even come up with a decent catchphrase for McClane in this one. He keeps screaming, “I’m on vacation!” which reminds of Billy Crystal’s whining in City Slickers. By the way, he technically isn’t even on vacation. He’s on a mission to find his son; he would never pick Russia as a vacation spot. (I see McClane as more of a Barbados kind of guy. Perhaps that will be the next movie.)

Why pick Russia as the locale? Perhaps they were looking for some sort of throwback vibe to the ’80s. Well, Russia has lost its luster as a place for bad guys. And you just know some character in the film is going to say, “You Americans all think you are so smart!” (Someone does.) You can also guess that the action will eventually wind up in Chernobyl. (It does.) I was surprised Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago didn’t pop into frame and challenge McClane to a fistfight.

Anybody who whined about the previous chapter, Live Free or Die Hard, which came out nearly SEVEN YEARS AGO, will discover that film (which I happened to like) was a party compared to this one. It had a great villain (played Timothy Olyphant); it had comic relief (Justin Long, Kevin Smith and Willis when he was in a good mood); and it had the mighty beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who makes a drab cameo in this one). It also zipped along at a fun pace, and reveled in its ridiculousness.

Well, Die Hard 5 is grey, somber and lifeless. Willis is shot to look worn out and gaunt. I know for a fact he can still look sprightly in movies, because he looks healthy and badass in the G.I. Joe: Rataliation trailer that preceded the movie.

If you are going to saddle McClane with a sidekick, don’t make it his miserable son. Bring back Long, or Samuel L. Jackson from Die Hard 3, or even the Twinkie-eating cop from the first two movies. Just make it somebody with a pulse who can crack a joke.

It’s strange how Willis’ career is going right now. He was awesome in last year’s Looper and Moonrise Kingdom, but he’s also showed up in five direct-to-video flops in the last two years. The latest Die Hard plays like something that should’ve suffered that fate. Willis is becoming the Charles Bronson of his generation when it comes to straight-up action films (remember those last Death Wish movies?), yet he delivered two of best performances in 2012. The man is confusing me.

Willis has publicly stated that there will be a Die Hard 6. For the love of God, if there is another movie, make sure those participating in it remember that it’s supposed to be ridiculous, and that laughter is OK.

A Good Day to Die Hard is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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