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FILM REVIEW: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
By Michael Phillips
Tribune Newspapers Critic
1 1/2 stars
"A Good Day to Die Hard" isn't just the weakest of the "Die Hard" pictures; it's a lousy action movie on its own terms, even without comparing it to the adored 1988 franchise launch starring Bruce Willis as John McClane, the New York cop who's a carnage magnet for all the terrorists and a supercool symbol of American might, right and muttered wisecrack.
Here, Willis barely gets a piece of his own noisy, zero-attention-span movie, and he suffers the usual indignity of any action hero north of age 55. Ten seconds of his first scene passes before someone calls him "Grandpa."
Traveling to Moscow to retrieve his estranged son, who's in some kind of trouble, McClane soon finds that his boy with the biceps, played by the Australian actor Jai Courtney, is really a CIA spook trying to keep a Russian dissident (Sebastian Koch, from "The Lives of Others") alive long enough to turn over a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry secretive top-secret file, containing evidence against the dastardly defense minister. Sample dialogue: "We need this file." And: "Just give me the file."
The first big car chase attempts to outrun equivalent scenes in both the "Mission: Impossible" and "Bourne" series, and folks, I am here to tell you: It's stupid. It's silly and overscaled enough to toss you straight out of the very movie you're supposed to be enjoying. From there, screenwriter Skip Woods leads the warring factions to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, where new bad things are happening, and ultimately someone falls down, down, down the way Alan Rickman did in the first "Die Hard," but with a difference pointing to the devolution of the series. The slice-him-up gamer-style evisceration capping that fall is a long way from the comparatively classy send-off Rickman received in '88, as he went splat on the pavement, the precise moment of impact left to the imagination.
Director John Moore leaves nothing to the imagination, unimaginatively, and with a misjudged reliance on absurd digital effects. Moore shoots and cuts mayhem like a pluperfect hack: All his previous assignments -- remakes of "The Omen" and "Flight of the Phoenix," the mechanical "Max Payne" -- have taught him little about pacing or mapping out a rangy action sequence. The father/son bickering grinds on, with McClane the elder bemoaning his workaholic tendencies ("I just thought working all the time was a good thing, y'know?" he says at one point, sounding like an absentee father, Hollywood studio executive division).
It's hard to keep a late-20th century franchise going, to be sure, but when you think of how good the recent James Bond films "Casino Royale" and "Skyfall" were, the fifth "Die Hard" looks and feels cynically lazy. The story sets up limp adversaries for our hero, one of whom seethes about the arrogance of the typical American "cowboy," just as Rickman's Hans Gruber (the greatest Bond villain never to appear in a Bond movie) went on, once upon a time, about McClane being "just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupted culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?"
Fighting words! But Willis looks pretty bored here. McClane has become a dour place-holder edition of his formerly relatable self. I enjoyed one bit -- a slow-motion sight gag involving Willis's final kiss-off to an adversary, surrounded by flames -- but it takes a long time to get there. This movie barely tops 90 minutes minus the end credits, and everybody coming out of the screening the other night couldn't believe it wasn't a lot longer. A lot longer. It felt that way.
MPAA rating: R (for violence and language).
Running time: 1:37.
Cast: Bruce Willis (John McClane); Jai Courtney (John McClane Jr.).
Credits: Directed by John Moore; written by Skip Woods; produced by Alex Young, Michael Fottrell and Peter Veverka. A Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release.
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