Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recent Watches: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

John McClane, as the title indicates, just won’t die. A fifth “Die Hard” movie had been bandied about after the fourth one proved surprisingly decent. Another six years would pass before the latest entry in the long-running franchise would premiere. “A Good Day to Die Hard” – because of course it was called that – was dropped in the unassuming month of February. Even the lesser “Die Hard” sequels managed to be entertaining. The fifth film, however, received an acidic reaction from both critics and fans. After twenty years, it seemed John McClane had finally run out of fuel.

John McClane has gotten some bad news. His son is in trouble over in Russia. He flies over to rescue his boy. Jack McClane is testifying against Yuri Komarov, a political prisoner. On the way to the trial, a hit squad appears to take Jack and Yuri out. Luckily, John arrives to help his son out. He soon learns that Jack is actually a CIA agent, a government spy. The McClanes and Yuri go in search of a file that will incriminate Komarov’s assassins, who work for a government official who profited off the Chernobyl incident. None of the Russians are who they appear to be. Betrayals and double-crosses ensue. Jack and John are along for the ride.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” was directed by John Moore, the same man who gifted the world with such lauded classics of cinema like “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Max Payne,” and the remakes of “The Omen” and “Flight of the Phoenix.” Moore is no John McTiernan. He’s not even Renny Harlin. “A Good Day to Die Hard” is shot through a sickly green filter, providing an overcast, dreary tone. During the action scenes, the film becomes shaky and incoherent. When the camera isn't jittering wildly, it falls into dull shots of muzzle flash and people falling down. “Live Free or Die Hard” pushed the action to difficult-to-believe heights. The fifth film goes even further. An extended car chase has multiple vehicles flipping through the air, cars driving over other cars, and much shattering stone. In the last act, John dangles from a truck dangling from a helicopter. CGI is abused in many of these sequences. The action in “A Good Day to Die Hard” is somehow both ridiculously overblown and utterly generic. All the R-rated bullet wounds in the world couldn’t make up for that.

Another problem I had with the fourth “Die Hard” flick was how it made John McClane into an inhuman superhero. The bloodied feet and broken bones of previous films were nowhere to be seen. But at least part four acknowledged that John had once been human. The fifth film treats John like a generic action hero. He leaps through a glass window, unaffected. He then falls through several awnings, wooden platforms, and plastic tubing. Near the end, he’s tossed through another window, drops through concrete floors, and lands in a pool. Wait, isn’t shattered glass the shit that crippled John in the first movie? Usually, Bruce Willis’ charm and sarcasm makes up for this problem. Unfortunately, “A Good Day to Die Hard” was made knee-deep in Willis’ “not giving a shit” period. The film drills its lame excuse for a one-liner, “I’m on vacation!,” into the ground. Bruce winces and smirks but there’s no life behind his eyes. He’s as bored as the audience is.

Also boring: Jai Courtney! The Australian hunk of meat keeps getting cast in high profile action movie, despite having all the charisma of a dead panda bear. Before he put viewers to sleep in “Terminator Genesys,” he lulled us into a peaceful slumber as John McClane’s son. Courtney’s face seems unable to emote. He reads all his dialogue in the same flat, slightly irritated tenor. As an action star, Jai utterly lacks screen presence. Script wise, the film tries to sell the angst between McClanes Senior and Junior. John regrets not being there for Jack, the boy listening from around a corner. Later, they chat while driving towards Chernobyl. By the end, Jack happily accepts John as his father. Moreover, he accepts his family heritage of ass-kicking. It’s cliché, dour stuff. In a better film, even with a better actor, this should’ve been the story’s emotional heart. In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” it’s another lame attempt to heat up lukewarm material. (The far more likable McClane off-spring, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Lucy, is reduced to a cameo in the theatrical release and cut out entirely in the extended version.)

The fifth film really puts things in prospective. As underwhelming as Timothy Olyphant’s bad guy was in “Live Free or Die Hard,” the villains in “A Good Day to Die Hard” are totally forgettable. Most of them are generic dudes in suits. One of the henchman dances a little, and complains about Americans, but that’s the extend of his personality. The audience cares so little that, when Yuri’s betrayal comes, it barely registers. Who is the corrupt government official behind all this? Who cares! About the only bad guy that registers at all is Yuliya Snigir, as the unhinged daughter. And that’s probably just because I have thing for Eastern European women. The enemy’s plot is convoluted and uninteresting. Something about stolen plutonium... There’s a last minute attempt to spin the motivation towards greed – the same thing that motivated all previous “Die Hard” baddies – but it’s half-assed. Like everything else in the movie.

The movie looks like crap. None of the actors are engaged. The script is tedious. The action is badly framed and lifeless. The adversaries are completely forgettable. “A Good Day to Die Hard” is such a stunning achievement in mediocrity that it made me actively angry. Though flopping domestically, the sequel cleaned up internationally. Despite initial reports that the sixth and potentially final movie would be (awesomely) entitled “Die Hardest,” it’ll actually be a prequel called “Die Hard: Year One.” There’s no way it could possibly be lamer than this, right? Right? [4/10]

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