By Gary Dowell
So far, the first few weeks of 2013 have characterized it as the year aging action heroes have been dusted and wheeled out for their umpteenth go at creative mayhem. So far, in terms of box office performance, their respective flicks have sank from sight faster than the Titanic. (The actual ship mind you, not John Cameron’s over-rated passion project.) Normally, their characters complain about being “too old for this shit.” It now seems that audiences agree with them.
A Good Day to Die Hard is the latest such venture, and while it doesn’t kill the franchise in its tracks, it definitely waters down the brand quite a bit.
Bruce Willis returns as wise-cracking super-cop John McClane, who jets off to Russia as soon as he learns that his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been arrested for murder. It turns out that McClane the Younger is a CIA operative in the middle of an operation to rescue a dissident (Sebastian Koch) with access to a damaging file on a crooked Russian politician (Sergei Kolesnikov) poised to become that country’s next security chief. Cue chases, gun play, fisticuffs, double-crosses, and gratuitous misuse of helicopters, culminating in a raging battle in the heart of Chernobyl. (Yup, that Chernobyl.)
Granted, the series has always been far-fetched (that’s part of its charm) especially the more recent Live Free or Die Hard, but they’ve all had the courage to embrace their ridiculous plots, give them a sloppy wet kiss, and run with it. Here, director John Moore (Max Payne) and screenwriter Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) seem short on ideas, even when it comes to the action scenes — which is bad news for an action-themed franchise. Most of them suffer from choppy editing and disorienting camerawork, and one, an elaborate car chase early in the movie, goes on way too long and suggests whatever was left in the budget after Willis’ paycheck was cashed and went towards buying half the used cars in Moscow.
A lot of those flaws could be glossed over with a charismatic performance from Willis; sadly, he looks so tired and bored with it all that he seems to barely make an effort. That leaves John Jr. to anchor the mayhem, and Courtney — who comes across as Sam Worthington with a personality — is hobbled by a severely underwritten, one-note role. The love-hate banter between father and son rings phony, as does that entire subplot. Saddling McClane Sr. with a sidekick has been a go-to move since the series’ third installment, and this time around it draws so much attention away from the lead character that he barely seems to be present.
Also missing is a suitably engaging villain. In fact, A Good Day to Die Hard seems to be populated entirely by second-rate henchmen until the grand reveal in the final act; by then, it’s hard to give a damn.
Top it all off with a premise that is bargain basement spy-fi that seems anemic in the post-Bourne/Skyfall new world order and one can’t help but get the creeping sensation of a cynical attempt to slap “Die Hard” onto the title of a generic script while expecting it to fly. Instead, this artless dud crashes and burns.