Yes, I’m being a little sarcastic. But I can imagine plenty of single guys buying a ticket for “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth installment in Willis’ unkillable action franchise, as well as a few incredibly kindhearted wives and girlfriends willing to take one for the team. While fans of generic action sequences won’t be disappointed, those looking for any semblance of the John McClane we once knew and loved will come up short.
This time around, McClane (Willis) travels to Russia because he believes his wayward son (Jai Courtney) has gotten involved with some unsavory folks. However, things aren’t what they seem: John Jr. is actually a covert operative for the CIA, tasked with getting a political prisoner (Sebastian Koch) and an essential file out of the country. Obviously, the mission doesn’t go smoothly, so the two McClanes proceed to kill scores of people and blow up a lot of stuff.
I’d love to devote more than three sentences to the film’s plot, but that’s pretty much all there is. Nothing about the story will surprise you (unless you’ve never seen a movie before) and there’s nothing more complex than “good guys kill bad guys and rack up several billion rubles in property damage.” Director John Moore (whose name is a dirty word to many action fans thanks to duds like “Max Payne”) and screenwriter Skip Woods attempt to throw in some bonding moments near the end, but they feel as genuine as some of the film’s visual effects.
I will say this about “A Good Day to Die Hard” — at least it returns the franchise to its R-rated roots after the neutered “Live Free or Die Hard” was released with a studio-mandated PG-13. Bloody wounds are achieved through squibs, rather than the video game-looking CGI blood found in recent flicks like “The Expendables.” Plus, Willis actually gets to shout the entirety of McClane’s famous catchphrase, rather than having a certain 12-letter word muffled by a gunshot or explosion.
After delivering two incredibly nuanced, close to career-topping performances last year with “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Looper,” Willis is back to smirking, auto-pilot mode here. It works for his current version of McClane, but it breaks my heart to witness how much the character has evolved over the last 25 years.
What made the original “Die Hard” one of the greatest action movies of all time is that Willis’ character was simply a decent cop who wanted to save a lot of innocent people from bad guys. That’s it. He had more than three facial expressions, he wasn’t a superhero, and he wasn’t impervious to pain. When he ran barefoot over shards of broken glass, it was a catastrophe that affected his behavior for the rest of the film.
In the latest installment, he crashes a truck and flips it approximately 47,000 times, then jumps out and keeps running. That’s in the first 20 minutes, and the action sequences only get more cartoonish from there. It’s like a shadowy military organization killed the real McClane and stretched his skin over the Terminator. The change might result in bigger action set pieces, but it eliminates the sole factor that made fans love Willis and McClane in the first place.
Courtney, pretty darn effective as a villain in “Jack Reacher,” brings none of that charisma to the role of John Jr. In his defense, that’s probably not his fault. The character’s sole purpose for existence is to give McClane a reason to go to Russia, followed by 80 minutes of him yelling, running and shooting people. Any of a dozen actors could’ve played him. At least Courtney got a decent paycheck out of it.
While indiscriminate action fans might get a kick out of “A Good Day to Die Hard,” I can’t imagine anyone who loved the original finding it even remotely close in quality. At best, it serves as evidence of how far the franchise has fallen. I’m still not quite ready to write off John McClane, but I hope the next sequel returns the character to his human roots.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is rated R for violence and language.