After four Die Hard films have exhausted almost every premise for famed terrorist killer-world saver and still humble everyman John McClane, any pretense of seriousness is wisely abandoned by A Good Day to Die Hard.
This is a 97-minute movie (by far the shortest in the series) that takes itself only as earnest as required by action film standards; to wit McClane is once again in a life-or-death battle with a criminal mastermind and his henchmen. The remainder of the film, however, is a wild exercise in imagination by screenwriter Skip Woods’ (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and limits of physical expertise by stuntmen.
A Good Day to Die Hard’s director, John Moore, was tapped as replacement for Noam Murro, who dropped out during production to instead make the 300 prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, due in August. Moore hasn’t much of track record when it comes to box-office hits — Behind Enemy Lines (2001), Flight of the Phoenix (2004), The Omen (2006), Max Payne (2008) are hardly resumé boasts — so maybe he felt zero pressure to deliver with this either, especially when directing the fifth film in a series many had written off after the second installment.
Yet the key to the film’s success, as always, is Bruce Willis as McClane. Willis at 58 still passes for plucky action hero: grayer, yes, nearly bald and slightly less resiliency to cuts, bruises, and major wounds. But the benefit to Willis’ increasing wrinkles and approaching Social Security benefits is the increased wisdom, experience, and snark he brings to an older McClane, a character who’s already survived numerous run-ins with terrorists, mercenaries, more terrorists, and even more terrorists. (McClane is clearly the luckiest unlucky man in the world.)
To ease the nearly 60-year-old’s burden of carrying an action film solo — and to add some emotional resonance to what is a stunt-driven film — McClane is provided a wayward son named Jack (Jai Courtney, most recently seen as a villain in Jack Reacher).
Father and son haven’t spoken in a few years, but when the elder McClane learns that Jack was arrested in Russia for murder, he decides to travel to Moscow to learn the truth. The trip is a “vacation,” as McClane repeats over and over throughout the film, perhaps trying to land a new catchphrase sans profanity. But a fellow cop offers him this warning:
“It’s Russia. They do things differently there.”
“Me too,” McClane responds.
Once in Russia, McClane learns that Jack is a CIA operative who’s near the end of a three-year mission to extract a corrupt Russian businessman-turned whistleblower named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) with important information.
Komarov is on trial for his crimes, and knows the whereabouts of secret files that would be disastrous to his former partner Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), now a prominent Russian leader with a small army of killers.
Chagarin plans to kidnap Komarov, but Jack has arranged to help him escape, and his plan was working until Dad shows up and inadvertently compromises the mission. This leads to a wild three-vehicle chase sequence through crowded Moscow streets (with Budapest as the stand-in) between Jack and Komarov, Chagarin’s gun-toting thugs, and McClane, as well as dozens of unfortunate drivers who simply get in the way of the smash-’em-up mayhem.
Post-traffic chaos, McClane and Jack team up and prove to be a formidable pair, despite their father-son issues. Now that McClane has had troubles with his wife-turned ex-wife, daughter, and son, hopefully this story arc of familial conflict has resolved itself in the series.
Courtney does make for a reliable first mate in this Willis vehicle, a believable hero capable of handling himself and others in most situations. The exceptions are when the elder McClane relies on experience over brawn with clever work-arounds to various difficulties. It’s all about the father-son dynamic.
Plot twists spin the McClanes in new directions, and ultimately deliver them to the still-radioactive Chernobyl sans radiation suits — a fact that is mildly addressed by the plot and even joked about. And while it’s best to ignore the film’s lack of logic in the rousing final act, the reward is the guilty pleasure of extreme action, stupefying stunts, and two of the best villain deaths in years. This microcosm of the film is criticism and praise.
A Good Day to Die Hard tasks audiences with implicit acceptance of the illogical and preposterous, and rewards them with things going boom, crash, and thud, and people going boom, crash, thud, and “Yippee-ki-yay ... ” and “I’m on vacation.” Yes, it’s a brain drain of a film, but its go-for-broke zeal is contagious and fun, mindless or otherwise.
A Good Day to Die Hard
Directed by John Moore. Screenplay by Skip Woods. A 20th Century Fox release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 97 minutes.
Critic's Rating: ***
Lucy..............Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.