Early on in A Good Day to Die Hard comes a prolonged car/truck chase through the clogged streets of Moscow that contains some of the most impressive stunt driving Ive ever seen in a movie.
As far as I could tell, director John Moore (Max Payne, The Omen) used little to no CGI in the entire sequence. Those are real 18-wheelers and tankers and dump trucks smashing into each other, and the tactile feel of the scene, which goes on for at least 15 minutes, gets the movie off to a super-fun start. Its an orgy of Hollywood bombast and destruction at its most wanton.
Theres just one problem: With the exception of Bruce Willis, reprising his signature role of NYPD officer John McClane, you dont know who any of the people in the vehicles are, why theyre chasing each other or whats so important that pulverizing half of Moscow is worthwhile.
With the exception of McClanes son Jack (Jai Courtney), a CIA agent who has inherited all of his fathers crime-fighting smarts, every character in the movie is a double-crossing Russian, performed by actors who seem to be impersonating Boris and Natasha from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. There are MacGuffins and double-MacGuffins, trips to Chernobyl during which the actors take off their radiation suits so you can see their faces to tell them apart, and everyone carries magical guns that never run out of bullets.
Director Moore has the visual chops for this sort of material theres a beautiful shot, done in slow-motion, of two men falling to the ground alongside a mortally damaged helicopter but he seems to think of people primarily as things you shoot at or blow up. The incoherent script by Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman, The A-Team) doesnt help. How does this guy keep getting work? Whose daughter did he marry?
The heart of A Good Day to Die Hard is supposed to be Johns relationship with his estranged son Jack, who resents him for always having put his work before family. But whenever the movie pauses to let the characters work out their differences, you start hoping someone will throw a grenade into the room.
Willis can be a terrific actor when hes engaged by the material (Looper), but hes so bored and distant here, even his trademark smirk comes off as condescending. In the original Die Hard, McClane was constantly scrambling and using his brain to ferret his way out of impossible situations. In A Good Day to Die Hard, Willis cant be bothered to look even slightly worried when surrounded by chatty bad guys who love to make long speeches before pulling the trigger, because he knows hell figure a way out of his predicament while theyre blabbing away.
Unlike Live Free or Die Hard, which took heat for its wimpy PG-13 rating, A Good Day to Die Hard returns the series to its R-rated roots, primarily so Willis can spout his famed Yippee-ki-yay line in its vulgar entirety. Is anyone supposed to still be excited by this? This is the first Die Hard movie to run well under two hours (the incomprehensible final 30 minutes have been so furiously chopped, they deserve their own show on the Food Network). This is also the first Die Hard not to be released during the blockbuster summer season. Instead, the picture arrives in icy, lonely February instead, following recent winter flops by Willis fellow 80s action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
Time to give the shoot-em-up thing a rest, guys: Its tired and played out, and so are you.
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