By Sherry Lipp
Five films into the Die Hard series, I feel comfortable in saying the first film is the only one that truly got it right. It’s hard to remember how simple that first one truly was. John McClane (Bruce Willis) was a city cop caught in an impossible situation that forced him to single-handedly take down a group of bad guys. It all took place in a high-tech (for its time) office high-rise. The villain (Alan Rickman) was cool, the writing was clever, and despite the extraordinary situation it was easy to relate to the characters. And guess what? It didn’t entirely rely on action for its excitement. We are a long way from that with the incredibly bad A Good Day to Die Hard, directed by John Moore (The Omen 2006, Max Payne) and written by Skip Woods (Swordfish, The A-Team).
The only thing that even makes this a Die Hard film is that it stars Bruce Willis as John McClane. Otherwise it feels more like a generic direct-to-video action thriller. This time McClane finds himself in Moscow hunting for his son Jack (Jai Courtney). Jack has gotten into some serious legal trouble and McClane feels obligated to try to help, though the two have been on the outs for years. Given that this is Die Hard, McClane stumbles into a situation much bigger than he realized. Soon father and son are fighting some really bad guys, while trying to protect a political prisoner who holds a file containing top secret info.
The plot is convoluted and hard to really care about. The top secret info the prisoner holds is ludicrous, but I won’t spoil it. At the very least it is a surprise (which attempts to place the film in real-world historical context). The estranged-father-and-son dynamic is hard to sympathize with. Honestly I didn’t blame Jack for hating his dad. McClane clearly doesn’t take his son seriously, viewing him as a total screw-up. Even after Jack proves himself to be perfectly capable of taking care of himself, his dad still belittles him. For his part, I did find Courtney likeable as the younger McClane. But the buddy angle (and humor elements in general) worked so much better between Willis and Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard.
At very least I was hoping for some good action sequences, but even those were disappointing. An endless car chase is more disorienting than exciting. And in comparison with the original, and even the other three sequels, the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Clever dialogue has been replaced with clunky, witless one-liners. Even McClane’s trademark “Yippee-Kai-Yay” is a groaner, thrown in purely out of obligation. The whole thing makes we wish they had gone back to the drawing board. Or they could’ve just left well enough alone, since Live Free was a fun ride. And speaking of part four, while Timothy Olyphant may not have been the most distinctive villain, at least I remember who the main bad guy was. A Good Day is sorely lacking a strong, memorable villain.
Would it be possible for them to make a Die Hard more along the lines of the first film? Bigger is not always better. A Good Day to Die Hard is barely a shadow of the film that started this franchise. Perhaps it’s time for John McClane to finally retire.