Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard

No Perestroika For Old Men On Vacation

Bruce Willis as John McClane in John Moore's action drama "A Good Day To Die Hard".  Fox

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's the 21st century but John McClane is stuck in the 1980s, the decade in which the first (and last) great "Die Hard" originated.  In "A Good Day To Die Hard" you know someone will be in trouble when a solemn McClane (played by a Republican-leaning Bruce Willis) stands in a New York City police precinct nearby an official photo of President Obama.  Why?  Well, just as in "Zero Dark Thirty" it's a turning point when Mr. Obama is heard saying the U.S. "no longer tortures", the photo in the precinct is a cue for Mr. Willis' character to cease and desist using the U.S. as a location for cowboy mayhem.  McClane upped the body count in the prior four films of this overwrought action franchise, one that should have died for good after the admirable "Die Hard 2" in 1990.

So where to export McClane's violent road show?  How about Moscow, which in the film looks very much like the Moscow of 1986.  There, a portrait of then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev can be seen adorning one scene.  I thought the Cold War was over.  Mitt Romney did not, at least in his RNC speech last year.  Neither did this film's director John Moore (no relation, but yes, a namesake to a family member.)  Nor did screenwriter Skip Woods, who seems to have skipped his obligation to deliver a half-coherent or decent story to the big screen.  The year 1986, which gets mentioned by a villain, figures prominently.  In 1986 Mr. Gorbachev instituted perestroika (which means restructuring) to the Soviet Union, to invigorate a struggling economy and social progressivism. 

Inappropriately John McClane initially brings a humorous cultural restructuring to Moscow, namely of American values, cultural and otherwise.  (The film's bad guys take note of this.)  John's on vacation.  Never mind that he's in Moscow to visit his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney), a CIA agent on a mission to protect a Russian criminal Komarov (Sebastian Koch) from political persecution.  Jack, who isn't a very smart chip off the old block as a CIA man, constantly gives his dad the Rodney Dangerfield business.  The film's early, hokey sentimentality is soon abandoned, and its true, boisterous face emerges: lazy, noisy, cartoonish action sequences, which grow more nonsensical and improbable by the minute.  By movie's end the sunshiny emotional treacle returns, in a cheap, cynical and inauthentic way. 

Any perestroika in the film's anachronistic Moscow is the restructuring of traffic jams by the elder McClane, and in ridiculous fashion.  "Guess who?", McClane says, in Bugs Bunny cadence.  As well as being older (a good thing) John McClane sounds senile (not so good).  He apparently isn't smart enough to retire to the Caymans or Barbados.  Hint: the smart gene isn't in evidence in the McClanes or this film.  "I'm on vacation!", is McClane's refrain, always in the thick of action.  Not funny.  Gone are "The Matrix" days, yet Mr. Moore's film sloppily revives them, and like John McClane himself the action is outmoded. 

There's a villain, Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), clad in black, who smirks, laughs and eats a carrot like Bugs Bunny but looks more like Daffy Duck.  The villain's existence is terminated brutally in close-up, needlessly, designed for shock value that overwhelms any plot twists, none of which are clever, interesting or effective.  "A Good Day To Die Hard" lacks ambition, runs on autopilot and out of fumes.  I didn't care about it, or for it, and the film doesn't seem to care how foolish or sloppy it is.  "A Good Day To Die Hard" joins "Safe Haven" and "Identity Thief" in rapidly-growing unwanted company.  This image has been used to sell "A Good Day To Die Hard" but doesn't appear in it.  I truly believe this film knows how bad it is.  Mr. Moore, who has directed such action zeroes as "Max Payne" and the horror reprise "The Omen" (2006), needs a new line of work.

In the next "Die Hard" (and yes, I fully expect a sixth film), John McClane should run for U.S. Senate in Arizona.  Maybe the state's citizens may not notice the balding man whose name sounds oh-so-similar.  Mr. Moore's film is insane.  Even the short-attention spans of 15-year-old boys won't be sated by it.  One person sitting next to me shook his head throughout at the crazy action, he being a non-critic member of the general public.  That's all you need to know.  Please don't take a critic's word; the customer, they say, is always right (even if he isn't a paying one.)

"A Good Day To Die Hard" is a pointless exercise of blood, bullets and bodies being exploded.  The film and its action are exhausted, deadening and hollow.  By extension John McClane has devolved in his older age into a weary, pathetic machine of punchlines without meaning or purpose.  "John Dies At The End" might have been a better title for this "Die Hard" but, alas, even that title has already been taken.  A side plot about parents and their children gets twisted and swallowed, another facilitator for mindless violence. 

Mr. Moore's film is the nadir of this self-tarnishing series and Mr. Willis' career.  You'd think that Mr. Willis, who in some circles is known as a selfish actor, would have learned his lesson after "Cop Out" in 2010, but he apparently opted for an easy payday.  This is the laziest work Mr. Willis has ever done.  I'm not sure that's saying much, though.

Also with: Yuliya Snigir, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cole Hauser.

"A Good Day To Die Hard" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 37 minutes.

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