“A Good Day to Die Hard” – 2 STARS

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Going into “A Good Day to Die Hard” (a.k.a. “Die Hard 5”), I knew that I would be the guy that would take a stand against the barrage of negative reviews from critics and fellow movie blogging buddies. I was prepared to respond to those who have berated the film or labeled it a major disappointment. I was ready to let everyone know why the current 16% Rotten Tomatoes score was misguided and wrong. But I ran into a problem. I was ready and prepared to defend this film. Unfortunately I can’t. If it weren’t for the title I would have never known this was a “Die Hard” picture. “A Good Day to Die Hard” is missing almost ever signature feature and clever nuance that has made this franchise great.

There are several things that have set this franchise apart from other action films. You have the fiery personality of its wisecracking lead character. You have strong, well-defined, charismatic villains. You have solid side characters that fit perfectly in John McClane’s chaotic world. You’ll have a hard time finding a trace of any of these things in “A Good Day to Die Hard” and for me the problems all start with the writing and direction. Skip Woods wrote the screenplay which explains a lot. His last two writing credits were for the terrible “X-Men Orgins: Wolverine” and the even bigger train wreck “The A-Team”. John Moore directs and while he’s received some box office success, his resume is filled with forgettable films. Put these two together and apparently this is what we get.

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The story is simple and pretty generic. John McClane (Willis) heads to Moscow after receiving news that his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been put in prison. John finds out that his son is a CIA field operative and they both find themselves in the middle of a deadly terrorist plot. A lot of the movie is spent with Willis and Courtney bouncing lazy, ham-fisted lines off each other. I grew tired of Jack’s constant whining and John is now a self-reflecting softie. This gets into one of my biggest problems with this movie. This isn’t the John McClane of the other “Die Hard” pictures. We see very little of his signature spunk and in-your-face attitude. I kept waiting for him to go off on one of the bad guys McClane style but it never happened. In fact, the closest we get to seeing that is when he punches out a motorist for getting in his face. Not one of the terrorists – a civilian!

For me, if you take away McClane’s charisma and attitude you’ve already lost a lot. Apparently Moore thought that having Willis yell and scream here and there would be enough. Not even close! But to make matters worse, McClane’s great smart-alecky humor is decimated by Woods’ poor dialogue. So many times the one-liners land with a thud and they feel cheap and artificial. He does deliver a handful of lines that did make me laugh, but nothing close to the number of great quotes from the previous movies.

It also doesn’t help that he lacks a clear and present villain to go back and forth with. Instead of showing us the bad guy and then allowing McClane to fight his way to him, this film tries to play out like a thriller by throwing several twists in along the way. That’s fine except this is “Die Hard” and this is a significant departure from the structure of the other films. The story itself isn’t terrible and they do try and make some pretty cool historical connections. But it all plays out to be pretty basic stuff and doesn’t stick nearly as well as the other movies, even 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard”.

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But what about the action? I mean the action is the franchise’s bread and butter right? Does it manage to save the movie. Well, yes and no. There are a couple of unbelievable action set pieces even though they seem to grow more and more unimpressive as the film moves on. Perhaps the greatest scene in the film involves a huge car chase through the heavy traffic in Moscow. The sequence has some amazing stunts but it also has an unforgivable problem. It features some of the most frustrating camerawork and editing that I have ever seen in an action film. I am not a fan of the herky-jerky handheld camera craze. Here it’s amplified x10! It’s a long scene but the quick edits rarely leave the camera on a shot for more than a second. And the few times the camera does follow a shot it’s constantly shaking or moving from one place to another. Not only does it make things indecipherable but it basically ruined the scene for me.

I know this may be simplistic thinking especially from a pseudo-critic like me, but how can you mess up when you have such a tried and true formula to use? It may not sound like it but I did find some entertainment in “A Good Day to Die Hard”. I did think there were elements to the story that were pretty cool and there were some good action moments. I also can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when it comes to John McClane. But that’s also why this one stings. This film doesn’t do the movie or the character justice. The tag team of bad writing and bad direction sink this ship and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Some are saying it’s time to bury this franchise. No way! I want McClane to go out right. So I hope they do another movie. Just don’t let Skip Woods and John Moore anywhere near it!

Interested in another 80’s action star’s comeback? Check out my review of Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand”.