I'm Not Mad... I'm Just Disappointed

Bruce Willis was 33 years old when he originated the role of foul-mouthed New York City cop, John McClane, in 1988’s “Die Hard.” The film launched Willis to superstardom and it has stood the test of time as a pantheon to all that is right with action cinema. 24 years and 3 divisive sequels later, we’ve been given a fifth chapter, a gift that no one in particular was clamoring for. Why another “Die Hard” and why now? Willis is obviously attempting to reinvigorate an unstable filmography while Fox has no choice but to cling to one of their go-to action franchises. The previous entry, the PG-13 “Live Free Or Die Hard,” was met with initial enthusiasm, but has since become known as the film that neutered the series. “A Good Day To Die Hard” was all but inevitable.

Early buzz has been laughably reactionary, as if writer Skip Woods and director John Moore willfully took a steamroller to everything that everybody loved about the series. Is the new film any good? Not really. Will it ruin the series for anyone? It’s more likely to increase your appreciation of the previous entries. If the original was a steak dinner and films two through four were various kinds of fast food, this one is a can of SpaghettiOs. Bland but inoffensive. Edible but entirely uninspiring. It’s just sort of there.

Right off the bat, John McClane flies to Russia to see his estranged son (Jai Courtney), who’s just been accused of murder. When he finds out that his kid is working for the CIA, the two join together to wage endless bouts of gunplay and vehicular warfare against a group of faceless Russians who are out to obtain materials for nuclear weapons. The senior McClane spends the majority of the film whining about not having a plan and how he’s supposed to be on vacation. It’s a tone-deaf callback to the first film, in which the character happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, McClane is clearly fighting for his son and trying to rebuild their relationship, so the constant bitching is out of place, especially when the screenplay leans so hard on family melodrama.

The story is unsurprisingly pre-packaged, only serving to ignite a multitude of action scenes – several of which are minor successes – but the plot’s failing is in how painfully inert it is. The villains are nothing more than placeholders and the screenplay mistakes wisecracks and general silliness for character development. When one of the main bad guys is given the opportunity to kill McClane without a fuss, he literally tap dances in front of our hero, all the while chomping on a carrot. It’s a moment that’s likely to elicit laughs, but only because it aims so low. It mostly highlights how little thought the filmmakers put into the project.

If not for some competent action beats, the picture would be a chore to sit through. An early chase scene provides some welcome gratuitous (albeit disorienting) destruction and seat-rattling sound design, while the gunfights are mostly satisfying. The rapport between Willis and Courtney improves throughout the film, mirroring that of their characters, which helps to assuage the diminishing returns of the incredibly loud and over-the-top combat scenes.

Unfortunately, the picture makes poor use of its R-rating. The violence isn’t particularly hard-hitting (it rarely moves past the constraints of a PG-13) and the language is tame in comparison to the first three films in the series. Even more disappointingly, I can’t imagine Willis delivering his character’s signature catchphrase with less enthusiasm than he does here. It’s a moment that reeks of contractual obligation.

Viewers expecting “A Good Day To Die Hard” to recapture the magic of Willis’ glory days will be hugely disappointed, but those unrealistic expectations aren’t the fault of the writer or director. What is their fault is how agonizingly ordinary the whole affair is, and how much potential was left unrealized. On a technical level, it’s certainly adequate and there’s nothing overtly embarrassing about the experience. It’s simply a disservice to the franchise. There’s still a good “Die Hard” film left out there, somewhere. Willis still has that spark in his eye. For now, take this one with a chaser of your favorite “Die Hard” memories and hope that the series goes out on a higher note. John McClane deserves better.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: February 14, 2013
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Director: John Moore
Screenwriter: Skip Woods
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yulia Snigir, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Anne Vyalitsyna
MPAA Rating: R (for violence and language)