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Tony’s Review of “A Good Day To Die Hard”

(Image Credit: 20th Century Fox)

The original “Die Hard” was a surprise action film that helped redefine the genre.  In an age of muscular superheroes like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, an average looking television actor became the next major action star.  Bruce Willis as John McClane was the first “everyman” to be believed as a major action hero, being the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and just surviving by the skin of his teeth.  Unfortunately, four movies later McClane has now become a superhero and the franchise suffers greatly for it.  I was really looking forward to this movie, being a huge fan of the original three and wanting to see Willis make up for the terrible fourth film.  Sadly, that’s not what we got.

“A Good Day To Die Hard” (quite possibly the worst example of shoving the original title into a pre-existing phrase) opens with Jack Generro, a.k.a. John McClane Jr., in Russia carrying out a contract killing, and then being arrested for it.  Carry over to America where John McClane is at an NYPD firing range for target practice.  A fellow detective gives John the file on his son, whom John believes to be a delinquent who’s on the wrong side of the law.  Finding out that Jack is set to be tried in Russia, John decides to fly to Moscow to show his support.  This all happens at the same time as political prisoner Yuri Komarov is set to stand trial where political figure and former friend Viktor Chagarin has paid off the court to make sure Yuri doesn’t receive a fair trial.  Jack offers to testify that it was Yuri who ordered the hit, and is brought to the court along with Yuri.  McClane arrives at the courthouse as Jack and Yuri are brought inside, but the trial is cut short by an explosion outside the courtroom that allows Jack and Yuri to escape.  After running into his father, Jack tries to speed away with Yuri in a van Jack previously arranged for.  During the chase it is revealed that Jack is actually an undercover CIA operative assigned to get Yuri out of jail so Yuri can give the CIA a file incriminating Chagarin, but due to McClane showing up and stalling them, their window of opportunity is blown and now Jack and McClane must finish the mission together, a partnership Jack is far less than thrilled with.

I’ll come right out and say it, there’s a lot wrong with this movie.  Its fun and I can say I enjoyed it, but compared to the first three movies in the series, this was horrible.  After the complete piece of crap that was “Live Free or Die Hard”, this movie had a lot of ground to cover to make up for the past film and get the franchise back on track for the upcoming sixth film that Willis has already confirmed.  Unfortunately, this movie fell flat in a lot of places where it should have succeeded.  The action, which normally is the highlight for a movie like this, was poorly shot and even more poorly edited.  During the major chase scene after the courtroom explosion, its difficult to keep track of where everyone is and where they are coming from.  At one point McClane, driving his first of three vehicles with the Mercedes logo on the grill in the most blatant product placement ever, runs his car into Jack’s van and the villain’s truck, but you don’t see McClane pull up to them, they just cut to a shot inside the cab of the truck and he’s there.  This movie, the first in the series to be written as a “Die Hard” movie and not as another script adapted to the series, was written by amateurs.  The dialog was forced at times, hokey a lot of the time, and very difficult to listen to.  In case it wasn’t obvious that John McClane is there on vacation, the character yells it no less than five times during the 90 minute movie.  Bruce Willis, because he’s a seasoned actor, is able to make the best out of the horrible script, but Jai Courtney as Jack doesn’t have the acting chops to make lemons into lemonade.  Of the five films, this one by far has the worst villains yet.  There is an impressive plot twist involving the villains just before the final climactic battle, but before that the main villain, Alik, is portrayed as a complete lunatic, laughing at the death of his own henchmen, but no character development is given to explain his eccentric and maniacal attitude.  He’s crazy simply because he’s the bad guy, no other reason.

The biggest issue I had with this movie is how completely unbelievable it was.  The suspension of disbelief is very important in film.  You can give the audience any crazy scenerio you want, just make it make sense within the world you’ve created.  The original films portrayed the action as fairly realistic, with McClane as a vulnerable man, nothing more.  Once, McClane could be completely incapacitated by a floor covered in broken glass, but now he’s a superhero that can survive two car wrecks while not wearing a seatbelt, being hit by a car on the freeway, jumping out of a window and falling several floors with only scaffolding to break his fall, and being thrown from a spinning helicopter at least 20 to 30 feet through a window into a rundown building.  The stunts and action pieces in this movie alone could end up being two episodes of “Mythbusters”, the biggest one being “Is there anything you can spray to eliminate radiation?”  The climax of the film takes place in Chernobyl, but the villains don’t need to worry about radiation in a closed off vault because they brought a tanker of something that, according to the voice over, will eliminate the radiation.  Its so outlandish that the villain actually says, “Trust me,” in the voice over explaining what’s going on, almost as if it was directed to the audience and not the other characters.

The film wasn’t a total loss though.  Bruce Willis is always on the ball when playing John McClane.  Willis cannot be blamed for the bad writing and directing, but one would hope that a star of his influence would speak up and demand better quality.  A big complaint with the last film was the reduction in rating to PG-13 to allow for a broader audience.  Though that did allow younger audience members access to see the film, it did have one vital drawback… the language.  In a PG-13 movie you have a limit of using the F-word only once, if at all.  We all know McClane’s catchphrase and assumed it would be the only use of the word in “Live Free or Die Hard”, but even that ended up censored, with a gunshot covering it up.  Luckily, “A Good Day to Die Hard” was given an R rating and earned every bit of it.  McClane’s use of vulgarity is as crucial to the character as his use of a gun.  Not only do we get McClane’s catchphrase uncensored, its placed at a perfect moment in the film, fitting for the scene and not just thrown in as fan service.  Jai Courtney as Jack may not be the greatest actor in the world, but its obvious that he and Willis have good screen chemistry.

Overall, this movie failed so much as being a “Die Hard” movie that a trailer that preceded it was actually a better fit for the “Die Hard” franchise, “Olympus Has Fallen”.

During the entire film all I could think was, “Holy crap!  The trailer for ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ was a better Die Hard than this!”  When you watch the trailer it really feels like “Die Hard” in the White House, with the hero being alone, in over his head, up against terrorists in an isolated location.

Like I said, I did enjoy the movie.  I found enjoyment when I did what I could to stop thinking about it as part of the overall franchise.  If this were a stand-alone film it would be great.  I’d still take issue with the substandard writing, directing, and editing, but it would be another blemish on an iconic franchise.  If someone asks me if they should see this movie, I can’t say “no”.  But I will say that it is not worth your time or money to see it in the theater.  This is definitely a Redbox weekend renter at best.

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