If you were to tell the even the average civilian who frequented movies that the script for “A Good Day To Die Hard” was actually just another generic actioner found in a studio pile and then subsequently retrofitted to fit the “Die Hard” brand, said average schmoe would have no reason to doubt you. In fact, this was exactly the case for both “Die Hard With A Vengeance” — originally called “Simon Says” — and “Live Free Or Die Hard,” which started as “WW3.com” (seriously) with neither originally conceived for the franchise. That is to say there’s almost nothing distinguishable that identifies this particular story with the John McClane (Bruce Willis) narrative — that of an everyman New York cop who often finds himself a magnet for trouble — other than gigantic broad strokes. This is how largely anonymous and colorless, “Die Hard 5” aka “A Good Day To Die Hard” truly is. Set in Russia for seemingly random (and antiquated) reasons and featuring a father/son dynamic that’s uninspired and banal, the fifth installment of this series takes a weak, half-baked story and simply grafts it onto John McClane’s ongoing adventures, but for no discernible reason other than to keep said adventures going.
Written by Skip Woods (“The A-Team,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), the unnecessarily convoluted, yet simplistic “A Good Day To Die Hard” begins in Russia with two rivals: Komarov, an imprisoned Chernobyl-era scientist (Sebastian Koch) and Chagarin, the crooked politician (Sergey Kolesnikov) who will use his power to prevent the man from testifying in a trial that will implicate him in some Russian political scandal (look, it barely even matters). Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) is due to appear in the same court, charged with murdering a man in connection to them both.
Back in the good U.S. of A., John McClane (Willis) is informed of his estranged son’s criminal doings and feeling a sense of duty fuelled by guilt from his failed parenting, jumps on the first plane to Moscow to see how, if at all, he can get his son out of this mess. When Russian terrorists suddenly explode into the courtroom, trying to kill Komarov, McClane comes across McClane Jr. trying to extricate the scientist out of the rubble and trouble. It turns out the reason McClane barely knows his son or what he’s done for the last decade or so it because (wait for it) the young man is secretly a highly-trained CIA operative sent to Moscow to prevent Chagarin and his men from pulling off a nuclear weapons heist (surprise!). And thus begins the “Die Hard 5”: bickering father and son in a foreign land, trying to save the egg-headed scientist from landing into the clutches of Russian terrorists who could plummet the world into a potential darkness the likes of which we haven’t seen since the long-gone decade where these kinds of paper thin, silly plots were accepted at face value.
Directed by John Moore (“Behind Enemy Lines,” “Max Payne”), apart from some impressive stunts that are over-the-top and ridiculous (and decently choreographed), “Die Hard 5” misses the boat at every turn. Once the symbol of virile, American masculinity and a maverick take-no-prisoners approach, McClane is near faceless in the movie. The character is pretty damn mellow in episode five, so much so that whatever fun remains in McClane is largely absent. While the lame quips still exist (as groan worthy as anything in a Stallone or Schwarzenegger film), McClane seems to have grown older and wiser. When his son aims a gun at his head and tells him to butt out because he’s going to compromise his secret mission, McClane shrugs and goes, “Ya, gonna shoot me?” And in every perilous situation the cop seems to have a relaxed grin on his face that suggests, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve been through this before.” Even-keeled, McClane doesn’t seem too old for this shit, nor is he too pro-American, nor does he bitch and moan too much. He just quietly demonstrates how to do things in a, “Here’s how it’s done, son” approach. While it may make sense from a character angle (he’s 50-something now), it makes for an incredibly dull lead, one who feels like he’s on autopilot throughout.
“Die Hard 5” misses every opportunity it has in its would-be arsenal and is also aggressively safe across the board. The Russians might be the antagonists but the film barely evokes Cold War rivalries or indulge much in the nostalgia of American jingoism that makes many audiences cheer with outdated patriotism. While John and Jack butt heads, it’s not for very long and the opportunity to squabble for comedic or dramatic effect is almost never exploited (it should be said the movie is never funny). And in fact, you can time your wristwatch to the moments when father will try to make some overture to connect with his son. The young man isn’t having it, until dad tells him he loves him, and then they’re fine like nothing ever happened. And then they’re a super-duper team suddenly, the one minor interesting conflict in the film instantly disappearing in favor of Dad and Jr. about to kick serious ass. McClane antagonizes his son with tough-guy taunts (“What you’re gonna give up?” “You don’t have a plan?”), but he’s far less a macho dick than he has been in previous installments.
Willis takes a backseat in “Die Hard 5” and yet the movie doesn’t seem to position Jack to be the heir apparent of the series either. The gesture to include the prodigal son in the narrative seems like the sitcom-y notion of including a new sibling once the series is struggling to be interesting. While this is certainly true, the addition of more McClane manpower does nothing to invigorate the tedious outing. Even worse, Jai Courtney doesn’t doesn’t seem to possess a lick of charisma and seems cast mostly for his vague resemblance to Willis. Then again, the actor also isn’t given anything to do, so far all we know there’s a Michael Fassbender inside there somewhere (ok, doubtful, but you get the idea). To boot, the two men have zero chemistry together.
Mary-Elizabeth Winstead cuts a paycheck for two days work as McClane’s daughter who bookends the film (“Dad be safe, don’t fuck shit up too much like you usually do”), Cole Hauser plays a safe house agent (“Hey, what the hell? BLARUGUHH!” *dead*), Radivoje Bukvic plays a Eurotrashy Russian underworld gangster and raven-haired Yuliya Snigir plays the villainous vixen (*purr,* *scowl,* *cackle*) and everyone else is a body count.
“A Good Day To Die Hard” is a joyless affair, but is also so unimaginative and monotonous, it’s hard to get worked up about it. It is loudly obnoxious, hollow, by-the-numbers, rote and painfully uninspired, but it’s almost too boring to describe as horrible. It just sort of regrettably exists. McClane could be described as a cartoon in recent years, but this is potentially generous as even cartoons (see Marvel) can be entertaining and charming. McClane just seems tired. Not in a “Send this man to the retirement home” manner, more in a “Wow, this man is just completely disinterested in being here, maybe he should just quietly go away.”
In “Die Hard 5,” music blares with panic and portent, explosions and crashes attempt to assault the senses. A winky meta-joke falls flat. An audience member coughs awkwardly. It all seems to be a movie in service of some big set pieces that one could give a toss about. There will be worse movies released this year that will provoke much stronger reactions. You will loathe them far deeper, you will laugh at them with much more riotous disbelief, but it will be a surprise if you find a movie you can give a flying fuck less about than this one. “A Good Day To Die Hard” isn’t dead on arrival because that would suggest it has a pulse. [D+]