Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"A Good Day to Die Hard" (2013)

Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch
Written by Skip Woods
Directed by John Moore
Rated R - Violence, strong language
Running Time: 97 Minutes

John McClane (Bruce Willis) receives word that his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested for murder in Russia and heads to Moscow. Meanwhile, Jack arranges to testify against a political prisoner named Yuri Komorov (Sebastian Koch) who claims to have a file of dirty deeds committed by powerful Russian government official Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). But Jack's testimony is only an excuse to get him into the same room as Komorov; Jack McClane is actually an agent for the CIA, whose mission is to extract Komorov and retrieve the file on Chagarin.

McClane arrives at the courthouse just in time to witness Jack and Komorov escaping custody and under fire. He joins the chase and eventually saves Jack and Komorov from assassins sent by Chagarin. But with their extraction blown and their safe house under attack, McClane, Jack and Komorov have no choice but to retrieve the file themselves and escape Russia and Chagarin without the help of the CIA.

I wasn't terribly hard on "Live Free or Die Hard," though I know many people who flat-out hated it. But let me make this clear: If you didn't like "Live Free or Die Hard," stay very, very, very far away from "A Good Day to Die Hard." I can't stress that enough.

And, y'know, frankly I'm not that hard on a lot of action films. Even the ones I recognize aren't very good. But you know what, I'm going to be pretty hard on "A Good Day to Die Hard."

Let's start with the biggest let down of all: Where in the hell is John McClane in this movie? I see Bruce Willis. He's there, kinda doing stuff, I guess. But he's not John McClane. Not even the pale shade of John McClane he played in "Live Free," the cynical reluctant action hero. No, this "John McClane" is an old man who spends roughly two-thirds of his dialogue complaining. Actually, literally complaining.  Wise-cracking John McClane is not on display here. During the film's biggest and most impressive set piece, a crushing truck chase through crowded Moscow streets, McClane's dialogue consists of headscratchers like "Who's this guy?" and "I'm not done talking to you!"

What made John McClane so interesting in the original "Die Hard" was not just that his cracks had real wit, but also that he was a vulnerable guy who was going through hell to get his wife back. That eroded over time, with "Live Free's" version of McClane a quieter man who'd seen a lot and had sort of resigned himself to being "that guy." But here, McClane has no reluctance. In fact, he comments to Jack that he's actually having fun "killing scumbags" with him. How did we go from reluctant hero to gung-ho killer? And why is it that McClane's (obnoxiously) recurring line is to shout, "I'm on fuckin vacation"?  He's not on vacation. He's there to see his criminal son, who could be sentenced to death for his alleged crimes. Yet, as he finds himself rather constantly under attack from Chagarin's mercenaries, he's screaming at them that he's on vacation. It's not funny, even more so because it's so blatantly untrue.

And these are just the broad strokes. Let's not even really discuss how McClane can't speak a lick of Russian but spends much of his flight to Moscow reading Jack's arrest report... in Russian. Or how McClane openly commits felony theft and assault on innocent Russian citizens and then laughs about it. The script feels like it was written by someone who'd never seen a "Die Hard" movie (even the fourth one) and was simply told, "John McClane doesn't take shit from anyone." In addition to not taking any shit, he also doesn't take any damage. By the end of the film, he's covered in blood, but he doesn't even seem to be limping. At least "Live Free" did that. John McClane must have used his god-mode cheat when he booted up this game. In fact, McClane is in two rollover wrecks himself (with nary a scratch on display afterward). McClane gets into two crashes in under ten minutes that should probably be lethal, but he runs (not walks) away from both of them, the only consequence being his worsening mood.

There are some awkward attempts at emotional resonance, trying to make it like the theme of the film is a father reconciling with a son who's not quite the fuck-up he thought he was. But really, it's just a film that shows a father and son having a blast slaughtering foreign citizens in the sake of "national security."

But let's move beyond this false McClane and talk about the rest of the movie. I'm pretty sure that every single action sequence in this film contains more automatic gunfire than the entire first movie. Even at a crisp 97 minutes, "A Good Day to Die Hard" feels like 2 hours of chattering and pounding gunfire. The Moscow truck chase is pretty decent if only for the amount of vehicular carnage on display. There are many, many wrecked cars in this sequence.

Jai Courtney doesn't get much to do in terms of acting or character. He has pretty bad chemistry with Willis, but the script doesn't even really allow him to develop any, regardless. McClane and his son barely do more than shout and fight in this movie, so when it comes time for them to have some kind of witty father-and-son back-and-forth it feels awkward and terrible. Chagarin, for some reason, is repeatedly shot walking toward the camera in slow-motion. I don't know why. But it's weird and distracting instead of dramatic or cool. Chagarin's main mercenary, Alik, is over-the-top and the actor is clearly having fun chewing the scenery but he's not particularly memorable in any fashion. I couldn't even remember his name; I had to look it up.

And, y'know, I also don't usually throw out the complaint about "videogame-level CGI" but... feast your eyes on this shit:

There's not too much more to say about "A Good Day to Die Hard." I was hoping that it would be at least a competently made actioner, if not up to the level of its modern classic progenitor. I'm the guy, remember, who thought "Expendables 2" was a solid romp... but this isn't. I can forgive "Expendables 2" because it was fun. "A Good Day to Die Hard" isn't fun. It has a few solid moments, maybe a handful of chuckle-worthy one-liners, but that's it. The film's climax, set in an overly fake-looking Chernobyl, has an appropriately brutal comeuppance for the villain as it's only cool bit.

But it also features John McClane diving out a sixth-story window, down past a crashing helicopter, whilst giving its pilot the middle finger.

I can't help but think that maybe he was giving it to us, too.

See Also
Die Hard
Die Hard 2
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Live Free or Die Hard