Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard / **½ (R)

John McClane: Bruce Willis
Jack McClane: Jai Courtney
Komarov: Sebastian Koch
Lucy: Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Irina: Yuliya Snigir
Alik: Rasha Bukvic
Collins: Cole Hauser

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by John Moore. Written by Skip Woods. Based on characters created by Roderick Thorp. Running time: 97 min. Rated R (for violence and language).

Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is the shortest of the “Die Hard” franchise. In fact, it’s the only one less than two hours in length. It is also the simplest of the series. It’s the simplest in plot, the simplest in character development, the simplest in set up, the simplest in execution, and the simplest in aspirations.

All the “Die Hard” movies employ plots that are pretty much mere excuses for spectacular action sequences. With “A Good Day to Die Hard” they eliminated all those pesky non-action details, like conversations, humor, and intricate plot points, so they can get the audience to what it is they really paid their money for. For some, this will be exactly the “Die Hard” movie they are looking for; others may miss those other elements.

Bruce Willis once again reprises his everyman hard-nosed cop role of John McClane. In the previous film, “Live Free or Die Hard”, he reconnected with his daughter, Lucy. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also returns as Lucy, but this time McClane is determined to reconnect with his son, Jack. The main problem there is that Jack’s absentee father issues appear to have run him down a very bad path. John learns that his son is in a Russian prison for drug trafficking and murder, and the man he supposedly works for, Komarov, is a very bad man indeed.

Like most “Die Hard” set ups, little is what it appears to be about Jack’s situation. I’m not a fan of spoilers, and I don’t think this will be spoiling much, but if you’re sensitive to such things you might as well just stop reading right now. It turns out Jack isn’t such a bad kid after all. He’s a CIA operative. His mission is to extract Komarov from incarceration as a witness at his trial and obtain Komarov’s secrets about the current Russian Minister of Defense candidate, whose appointment would threaten to destroy the Glasnost built up between Russia and the United States.

Director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods take about the same amount of time to set that up as it took you to read those two paragraphs, and then it’s off to the races with a very impressive truck chase through the streets and highways of Moscow. This sequence is so spectacular it renders most of the arguments complaining about the lack of set up moot points. Willis tests the limits of an SUV’s off road capabilities by driving on top of the other trucks and cars that are on the road.

From this point on, the time that passes between action sequences adds up to about a minute throughout the entire movie. We go from the highway chase to a rooftop foot chase to a ballroom shootout to an explosion filled climax at Chernobyl of all places. In those sequences we are given only the slightest of character types to deal with. There’s a hit man who likes to dance, because all major villains need a personality quirk. There’s a sexy villainess, because sexiness is the only personality trait evil women need. And the object of their mission isn’t exactly what he appears to be. This did not come as the slightest bit of a surprise.

The major element that is lost in this episode of “Die Hard” is Willis’ humor. The snappy comebacks and anti-authority attitude of John McClane has always been his saving grace as an action hero. He could always funny up any dire situation. Here Willis is given few opportunities to crack wise, and for the most part they are less than exemplary attempts or missed opportunities entirely. He’s given the chance to use his famous laugh on the tap dancing bad guy, but there just aren’t as many flippant remarks by John this time around. It’s almost as if he’s trying to respect the fact that he’s out of his element in Russia.

Like I said earlier, it is a little hard to knock a movie that is merely an engine for action sequences when the action is done as well as it is here, but there is a level of let down with this fifth installment to the series. I’d like to think that people expect more from even their action franchises. There should be some commitment to character and to the writing quality that came previously in the series. Yes, the action is good, but this isn’t just any action movie, it’s a “Die Hard”. The screenwriter should take more time to develop his plot and characters when John McClane is in the house. His appeal isn’t just that he blows things up real good, although he does do that better than most.

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