Monday, February 18, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Mary Elizabeth Winstead  Directed by John Moore. Screenplay by Skip Woods. Based on certain characters by Roderick Thorp in the novel Nothing Lasts Forever. Produced by Alex Young. Run Time: 97 minutes. U.S.  Color.  Action. Thriller.

I hate to quote myself, but in my review of Live Free or Die Hard I wrote about the fact that this franchise doesn’t seem to have a central creative force (person or production company) overseeing the story arc. And while I pointed out that each film pretty much starts anew, that is not always a good thing.

I felt that the franchise reached a new height with Live Free or Die Hard. The subject matter was current, the acting was good and I was optimistic that the new film would perhaps not fly as high, but still soar. A Good Day to Die Hard unfortunately crashes and burns like say a helicopter hitting a building.

At 97 minutes, this is by far the shortest of the movies in the franchise, but it is surprisingly the dullest as well. This is a Die Hard meets Bond meets Bourne and it just never quite comes together. There are five action sequences, one that seems to take up a third of the film, but none of them come close to the ingenuity of say taking down a helicopter with a car.

In the last film, John had to save this daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from the villain. Lucy only makes a cameo appearance in this film, which is too bad. Winstead once again doesn’t have anything to do. I thought it would have been a nice touch if she and Matt Farrell (Justin Long) had actually gotten together, but I guess that didn’t happen.

Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) only makes a cameo appearance. 

But it is the other child, the son we saw briefly in the original Die Hard, Jack (Jai Courtney), who is at the center of the film. And in this one John doesn’t save Jack so much as he works with him. (I’ll try to go into that without giving away too much later.) The father-son pairing doesn’t quite work as a buddy film, which has been a winning formula for the franchise.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jai Courtney, you’re not alone. Courtney is an Australian actor whose work I have never seen before. I didn’t watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the Starz series he was on in 2010, or Jack Reacher (2012). Neither was I familiar with the other main actors, besides Willis and Winstead. Sebastian Koch, who plays Komarov, is a German actor and Yuliya Snigir, who plays Komarov’s daughter Irina, is a Russian actress. Die Hard got very International very quickly.

Yuliya Snigir (Irina); Jai Courtney (Jack) and Sebastian Koch (Komarov)  make A Good Day to Die Hard an International Affair.
And while I understand the needs of International marketing, what this film is missing is some of what made the Die Hard franchise so popular. The most obvious thing missing is the humor. Die Hard films have always been full of witty dialogue to break up the action sequences. While there are some attempts at that, they fall short. Humor is replaced with some sappy dialogue between estranged father and son. John has never been a good father and while he seems to have made amends with Lucy, he and Jack are still distant.

Even the hero’s catchphrase seems to misfire. Some people have written that they didn’t even hear it. If you bury the catchphrase then you don’t seem to understand what you’re doing. There is a time and place for it and when it is spoken is not the right time.

While you often hear talk of chemistry between romantic leads, there didn’t seem to be any between John and Jack. Even when John is trying to be a father he comes off as a bit of a bully, even asking Jack, who has a piece of rebar stuck in him, if he wants to cry. These are the type of father-son talks that lead to years of therapy.

But John does apparently care enough about Jack to fly to Russia, when he thinks his son is in trouble, lifetime in the gulag type of trouble. We, as the audience, are kept in the dark the same way John is. We only learn later that Jack is working with the CIA. When the mission gets scrapped and plan B goes awry, John steps in to help him thwart the bad guys.

John (Bruce Willis) and Jack (Jai Courtney) are teamed together, but this is no buddy film.
Contrasted to that is the relationship between Komarov and Irina. At first, she’s with him as he wants to escape Russia after having served time in prison, then against him when she sides with his enemies and then with him as they pull the old switcheroo on his enemies. John and Jack seem to have a stable relationship (indifference) by comparison.

As always, this Die Hard film is about a heist. But there is no money this time. Rather it is weapons grade uranium stored at Chernobyl, yes the Soviet made wasteland. Is it just me, or does it seem that Chernobyl is a bit overused as a setting in films. I mean the Transformers were just there in Dark of the Moon (2011) and Chernobyl Diaries came out last year. Pretty soon it won’t be meet me at the top of the Empire State Building, as in numerous romantic comedies, but rather meet me at midnight by cooling tower 5 (maybe that’s wrong, I think Chernobyl’s meltdown was caused by the lack of cooling towers, but you get the idea).

There is plenty of action, but it's not all that ingenious. (It is a nice touch when John shoots the bird at the helicopter. Not shown here.)
After having watched the first four Die Hard films, I went in wanting to like this one too. I always hope that the movie will remind me of the best of the previous outings and strive to outdo them. But A Good Day to Die Hard is a Die Hard film almost in name only.

There are already rumors circulating of a sixth film. At the rate these come out, it’ll probably be 2020 and go something like this: Jack and Lucy are visiting John in the old folk’s home, but Komarov’s brother (to be cast later) is “convalescing” in the room next door and is planning on stealing all the medicine in the infirmary with the help of a cracker jack group of retired ex-KGB agents. God I hope it’s better than that and better than this one too.

For me, A Good Day to Die Hard belongs at the bottom of the films in the franchise, maybe above Die Hard 2, but it’s close. If there is a sixth, then it can only (fingers-crossed) go up from here.

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