As much as I contemplated bowing out in a previous entry, I just couldn’t quit John McClane. Besides, I had a relative desperate to get away from home for a while, which is one of the commonest rationalizations for doing something you know won’t end well.
Fortunately for impatient viewers, the “plot” portion of A Good Day to Die Hard occupies only the first ten minutes. Legendary neo-cowboy John McClane travels to Russia, where his son, a mere toddler without lines in the original Die Hard, stands trial for murder alongside another political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch, whom I last saw as the playwright under surveillance in the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others). Little does Dad know that Jack (Jai Courtney, suppressing his Australian accent just fine) is a CIA agent with a plan. Little does Jack know that he’s not the only one gunning for Komarov and the MacGuffin he holds. Little do Komarov’s pursuers know that he’s not as helpless as they think. And everyone but everyone knows sooner or later there’ll be explosions, bullets, and death-defying feats that would kill the average super-hero.
One of my main reservations about seeing the film in the first place was the track record of director John Moore. A look-up of his five theatrical films to date (including this one) confirms his least-hated film thus far (Behind Enemy Lines, the only Owen Wilson solo action vehicle ever attempted) scored a discouraging 37% on the ‘Net-famous Tomatometer. I’ll say this in Moore’s defense: he’s very attuned to the simple needs of an overblown action sequence. We need vehicle collisions in shapes we’ve never seen before; we need at least one surprise or two that we didn’t predict; we need a complete lack of pauses; and, most importantly in my book, all the attending sound effects need to have weight. The two best set pieces — a rush-hour chase through Russian streets (albeit filmed in Hungary) and the ludicrous grand finale that should’ve rendered every single character a charred corpse — deliver on most of those goods. If the movie were rated on the machismo-based craft of those two scenes alone, this movie would rate a B+. I’d knock off a letter grade because Moore’s insistence on shaky-cam cinematography on the freeways left some segments incomprehensible. At one point I had to squint and focus really hard to decipher which characters were chasing which.
I feel obliged to ramble for a few paragraphs about what the original Die Hard meant to me, but I’m ignoring that feeling because, beyond the blow-ups, Good Day invites only a few favorable comparisons. I did spot a couple of subtle callbacks to previous chapters (if anything about this flick can be called “subtle”) — a reuse of the word “scumbags”; a scene in which the two Johns schiessen die Fenster; a reenactment of a memorable villain death; li’l Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) returning from Live Free or Die Hard for a few minutes of quality time.
All other comparisons invite suffering. McClane’s fabled hard luck of the previous films feels instead like plot contrivances (especially an entire pool that comes out of nowhere in one key sequence). The camaraderie between Our Heroes isn’t the worst pairing of the series (movie #3 still reigns in that area), but is comprised of flimsy, cliché-ridden father/son bickering and bonding, culminating in a mid-movie moral-of-the-story therapy chat that drags like an anchor. The R rating of the first three returns mostly for the sake of a few extra F-words, plus several shout-outs to the Son of Man, each one more grating than the last. (By today’s standards, the violence alone is PG-13 at worst.) McClane’s classic profane catchphrase is present and accounted for, along with a new, failed slogan that he keeps repeating, even at times when it makes no sense: “I’m on vacation!” I would’ve preferred if he had just stolen from another film and kept muttering to himself, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.”
I still think the obnoxious and flagrantly derivative Die Hard with a Vengeance is the worst of the series, but not much about A Good Day to Die Hard rose to the level of its other predecessors. Scrub all the familiar character names, and this easily could’ve been released as just another direct-to-Redbox run-through featuring the third-string action hero of your choice — maybe a nice wrestler who didn’t make the cut for The Expendables.
For stalwart MCC readers, two notes about the end credits:
1. If the lengthy list is to be believed, the stuntmen outnumbered the actors in this film, dozens of names in all. It’s cool to know that practical effects aren’t extinct, though it’s hard not to be skeptical about their contributions when those same credits include eight different CG effects houses.
2. Regardless of what was real and what was pointed-and-clicked into being, there’s a large, full-screen message for us after the end credits, which I’m poorly paraphrasing here: “The making of this film supported over 14,000 jobs and required over 600,000 man-hours of labor.” These statistics aren’t attributed to a specific sponsor or group, leaving us to wonder what lesson we were meant to learn, whether it was “Piracy sucks”, “Look for the Union label”, or “Look how may people tried so hard to please you snarky ingrates.” I’ve decided to interpret the true meaning as, “Moviegoers support job creation and want the economy to get better. People who don’t watch movies are godless Commies who hope America burns.”