There was a time when the Die Hard franchise still had some juice in it to jump start the action mojo in moviegoers. Sadly, with this latest, and unbelievably not the last, dip into the franchise well; "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a quite simply a worn out and insulting attempt to cash in on prior success sans any effort to even replicate the elements that made the previous outings such great fun.
When the first film in the series, "Die Hard" debuted in 1988, Bruce Willis' New York City cop John McClane was a wise-cracking weary everyman caught up in an apparent terrorist takeover of a high rise building. It was McClane alone against seemingly insurmountable odds; not to mention matching wits with one of cinema's most memorable villains, the delightfully vile and cunning Hans Gruber, portrayed by a marvelous Alan Rickman.
The film wasn't just an action flick full of stuff blowing up; though plenty of stuff did just that. There were also great characters that had entertaining interactions. Willis' wise cracking cop juggled an uneasy relationship with his ex-wife ( Bonnie Bedelia ) being held hostage; while also, making a voice only connection with a sympathetic fellow cop on the ground ( Reginald VelJohnson ) and enjoyed some silly, yet effective comic relief via a young limo driver ( De'voreaux White ).
Even Gruber's crew of bad guys had personality; from the imposing, hot-headed blonde henchman played by Alexander Godunov ( Witness ) to the overly confident computer hacker ( Clarence Gilyard Jr. ). In short, the original "Die Hard" was an action film with charismatic texture beyond the bombast.
Indeed, Willis' McClane in the original film was certainly a tough guy for the ages; but he was refreshingly vulnerable too. Even as McClane cleverly dispatched each of Gruber's men and foiled their plans; like the old Timex watch motto, McClane still took a beating but kept on ticking. By the end of the film, McClane was beaten, battered, bloodied and barely standing; but still managed to come out on top in believable fashion.
You got the sense that McClane might not "Die Hard"; but at least the exciting plot hinted that there was a good chance this crazy heroic cop could possibly come close to flat out dropping dead. The subsequent films also followed this formula, more or less, to entertaining effect.
However, with this fifth abysmal installment, McClane and the franchise have become laughably stale with Willis' phoning in the same recycled jokes and attitude from years past, including his once memorable "Yippee Ki-Yay" line that, sadly falls painfully flat here. This time around, McClane is also apparently invulnerable to the most ludicrous of bone crushing situations, more reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon than a realistic action film.
In what seems like an endless series of complex and over the top action sequences, especially an extended early car chase scene, McClane survives with barely a scratch, more or less, and keeps on going with a perpetual smirk on his face and a repetitive new catch phrase, "I'm on vacation!"
The makers of this on-screen mess assumes the audience is going to eagerly swallow the ridiculous and threadbare plot line that has McClane playing a street-wise "fish out of water" in Moscow trying to make nice with his estranged son. Never mind the fact that after four films, we barely knew McClane even had a son.
In this film, McClane decides to travel to Russia when he discovers the now grown up kid has gone missing; only to surprisingly discover his son is a CIA operative working a mission to rescue a Russian government dissident who holds some valuable secret information. Nary a beat goes by before McClane has not only botched his son's mission; but also, he ends up joining the guy in a reluctant "father / son" mission to fix everything, including their broken family relationship.
The rest of the film has the duo chasing around some silly "MacGuffin" involving some other bad guys wanting the same info that the dissident has hidden away, some nuclear material, the dissident's beautiful daughter, and a flimsy climax that takes place at Chernobyl… yes, THE Chernobyl.
All the while, father and son snipe at each other until the flying bullets and bombs blasting around them throughout the film brings them together for a stupidly saccharine "touchy-feely" climax and 70's era TV freeze frame fade-out.
By transplanting Willis' street-wise John McClane to Moscow, this once memorable hero becomes nothing more than an older; not necessarily wiser, sidekick to his son in what devolves into a watered down Jason Bourne-like buddy flick. McClane is somehow always better and more believable on the streets of New York or the USA in general, than constantly smirking at his selective unfamiliarity with Russian culture as he's seen here.
In one scene, McClane laughably fumbles trying to speak Russian; yet in a pivotal car chase scene, he's navigating Moscow's crowded streets like he's lived there all his life downing Smirnoff.
Sure, McClane fires off a gun often enough to retain his action hero merit badge. However, more often it seems like McClane is following the lead of his woefully inept CIA agent son instead of being the true leader and focus of the film as the franchise title would suggest.
The direction of this film is shoddy. The cinematography and editing, especially during the opening car chase, is amazingly sloppy and choppy. The chase scene, and much of the remaining film, looks like it's a blend of shaky cam video, close ups, zooms and whip pan shots that were dumped into a Cuisinart, rather than helmed by an editor of any skill or lengthy attention span.
Amazingly, the word from Hollywood is that Willis has signed on to do yet another "Die Hard" film after this one. After seeing this film, that's certainly some depressing news to hear.
It's truly time to nail the coffin lid down on the "Die Hard" franchise and declare it officially dead and buried.
Tim Estiloz is a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Boston Online Film Critics Association. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimEstiloz and at www.TimEstiloz.com. - Be sure to LIKE his page on Facebook at: Tim Estiloz Film Reviews.