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Movie Review | ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ a graceless departure

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 08:02

 

The original “Die Hard” (1988) was a breath of fresh air in an action movie genre that had seen its heyday in the 1980s, winning critical praise thanks to its creative plot and action sequences. While the subsequent films in the franchise had varied levels of success, their one common thread was their wisecracking hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis), who gave the films a sense of attitude that set them apart from most typical blockbusters. Unfortunately, little of this attitude is present in the latest addition to the series, “A Good Day to Die Hard” which is dull and generic thanks, to mindless plot and poor script.

In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” McClane receives the whereabouts of his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is currently awaiting trial in Moscow in the wake of an assassination. McClane immediately decides to travel to Moscow in order to help his son, although how an NYPD officer would be able to influence the outcome of a Russian criminal trial is never actually outlined. This is where “Die Hard” makes one of its first crucial mistakes, since the charm of the series has been rooted in the idea of McClane as a “reluctant hero”, someone who takes action only because there’s no alternative. By sending him to Russia with the intention of starting a fight, this “reluctant hero” persona is invalidated, starting the film off on an awkward tone.

Jack has agreed to testify against government whistleblower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) in exchange for a shorter sentence, but before the trial gets underway, the courthouse is attacked by a squad of mercenaries hired by Russian official Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Komarov has a file containing incriminating evidence against Chagarin, that has also caught the attention of the CIA, who sent Jack as an undercover agent to recover the file. 

The plot goes through some predictable twists and somehow gets related to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, eventually leading to a team-up between estranged father and son as the McClanes face off against the Russian baddies. While no one expects a “Die Hard” film to have a plot worthy of a Christopher Nolan film, the plot’s job was simply to serve as the connecting tie between a series of action set pieces, and it still fails at that, trying to make a simplistic plotline feel complex.

One of the film’s biggest missteps comes from its script, written by Skip Woods. While claiming that a film is “non-stop action” is usually perceived as a compliment, that’s not that case for “A Good Day to Die Hard.” The script rarely waits too long before ramping up the next action sequence, leading to the film’s rushing through the plot at a breakneck pace that never lets up. Rather than allowing each action sequence’s impact to be felt — which is arguably one of the main purposes of any action flick — the script lurches from one to another in a relatively short time frame, making the endless barrage of bullets and explosions feel tiresome. And whenever the script makes a heavy-handed attempt at characterization, such as when it tries to explore the relationship between McClane and his son, it usually feels forced and artificial.

Despite these flaws, “A Good Day to Die Hard” would be redeemable if it contained some inspired action sequences. The previous film, “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007), had some surprisingly solid action that rarely felt too silly, so many would hope that this “Die Hard” installment would follow suit. Sadly, that’s not the case in this film, as the action routinely shoots for over-the-top sequences that are ridiculous to the point of being comical, like when McClane jumps out of a crashing helicopter and gives the finger to the pilot, all in slow motion. Unfortunately, that particular scene is not even the most ludicrous event that occurs in the film’s climax.

While “A Good Day to Die Hard” barely works as a serviceable action film, it also, sadly, loses much of the spirit that made some of the previous films in the franchise so enjoyable. Throughout the movie, one gets a sense that the creative team made the film up as it went along, a thought that is inadvertently reflected during an exchange between McClane and his son during the film’s climax. When McClane asks his son if he has a plan for assaulting the villains’ base, Jack replies, “Not really. I kinda thought we would just wing it, you know. Running in, guns blazing! Make it up as we go.” Unfortunately that seems to be the same approach taken with creating “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

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