In a review awhile back I said that the era of wrinkly old action stars rehashing previous hits to re-live their past fame is upon us, and wouldn’t you know the next guy on the list is Bruce Willis. Willis is an interesting example; unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone he remains a viable contemporary star — see Rian Johnson’s superb time travel movie Looper from last year– and though he basically plays himself in a lot of newer roles he hasn’t reached the level of irony other AARP action stars have. Willis’ irony meter as detective John McClane, however, is dangerously close to the red with his new movie A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth installment of the increasingly ridiculously titled Die Hard series.
This time around he has to save his estranged son John Jr. (played by Australian actor Jai Courtney) who is caught up in a Russian assassination plot that involves former Soviet weapons-grade Uranium falling into the wrong hands. It’s standard stuff as far as action movies go, but the real point is to get McClane and his son together for some reluctant bonding time…with lots of explosions. As he is wont to do and without much of a plausible explanation McClane goes rogue in Moscow, tracks down his son, and goes along for the ride like the American cowboy everybody continually tells him he is.
It sounds convenient because, well, everything in this movie is so unbelievably convenient. If McClane needs a car to catch up with terrorists on the streets of Moscow it’s no sweat, he just simply opens the door to a huge truck and miraculously speeds away. If McClane and his son need to escape from an abandoned building that’s being shot at by a gigantic terrorist helicopter they just simply jump on the conveniently placed scaffolding and slide down the construction ducts unscathed. If McClane and his son need an arsenal of guns to attack the main baddies, they simply happen upon a club where gangsters are said to hang out and find a huge cache in the trunk of the car they’ve broken into. The list could go on, and could include other convenient plots points that would give away spoilers, but they’d sound even more ridiculous than these ones already do.
It’s sad because the original conceit of Die Hard was that John McClane was an Everyman, put into unbelievable situations that left him battered and bruised. In the world of that movie when he bled he bled for a reason, and when he took a beating he limped away from it with an unparalleled action movie verisimilitude. It was believable to an extent, and his character acted like a human being. There were consequences to his actions, and a part of the genius of the original was that he had to find plausible ways around the seemingly insurmountable odds against him. The first three Die Hard movies stuck to this model, while these last two have moved increasingly farther away from it. In A Good Day to Die Hard he just drives off of a Russian overpass, flips his car multiple times, and walks out with that Bruce Willis smirk and conveniently placed fake blood on his face as if nothing is wrong. He’s Superman now, not John McClane.
Aside from conveniency plaguing this movie, it’s also pretty generic. The Soviet stuff vaguely connects to the original only in that it took place in the 80s, but it is paint by numbers bad guys have bad stuff that the good guys don’t want them to have and they need to stop it. The only unique characteristic about the main bad guy other than his obvious badness is that he tap dances and menacingly eats a carrot while threatening the captured McClanes. Also, the clearly action movie oriented Jai Courtney is pretty much wasted. You can see him trying to sculpt out a legitimate “angry son” character but the movie only allows him to keep yelling “John!” – he doesn’t call Willis “dad” — while trying to clean up the mess of McClane’s making-it-up-as-he-goes-along attitude, and any reconciliation between the two is unearned.
Then there is Willis. He’s made a career out of playing John McClane, but something about it here doesn’t seem genuine. Yes, he says “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” and he cracks wise about New York and New Jersey and being an American, but none of it rings true. It’s mostly because John McClane and this series feel like a shadow of their former selves, like someone addicted to continual plastic surgery – totally unrecognizable to their earlier more unique and true image.
Perhaps it’s so unrecognizable because no one was clamoring for Die Hard 5 – hell, no one was even clamoring for Die Hard 4 – and it would have been better in more capable hands with people who actually wanted to continue a story rather than co-opt an existing property. Maybe we can blame the generic shortcomings on the movie’s impatient 97 minute runtime, but in all there is simply not enough emphasis put into it to make us care. Maybe the best thing about this movie is that it reminds you of how good the originals were, and we should all finally agree with John McClane that he’s just getting too old for this shit.
PS – This movie commits a cardinal sin for action movies. It introduces the shirtless muscle-bound angry henchman and neglects to use him in an all out brutal brawl with the main character. Instead he just disappears never to be heard from again. This kind of stuff is unforgivable.