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A Good Day to Die Hard Review: The End of a Wise-Cracking Era

For 25 years, Bruce Willis’ John McClane has been keeping America safe, albeit in unconventional ways and never on his terms. After four strong films that never forgot the mugging, wise-cracking nature of our favorite cop, we have A Good Day to Die Hard, a lifeless fifth outing that's soul-sucking enough to justify an end to his cowboy days.  To be fair, A Good Day to Die Hard does have its merits in the action department and credit must go to director John Moore for mostly opting for stunt-oriented, old-school pyrotechnics and for crisply staging a number of complex sequences and set pieces. There must, however, be something behind the gunplay, be it grave stakes, humor, or some sort of chemistry between leads. This film offers no such substance and is essentially the insanity of Live Free or Die Hard without any of the effective comedic aspects. This failure falls almost exclusively on writer Skip Woods who has no grasp whatsoever on what made John McClane the icon he is today. McClane’s frequent self-deprecating humor in the midst of some of history’s most outlandish cinematic shit-storms brought an identity to the character. Wise-cracking cops are no revelation when it comes to Hollywood, but in the case of this particular brawler, it comes hand in hand.  Why anyone thought bringing on the writer of Hitman and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a good idea escapes me, as McClane’s requirement to grimace in lieu of any remotely charming one-liners makes this all a murky affair. Even the character’s throaty chuckle never makes it on screen. Coupled with the gloomy Eastern European aesthetic and the overbearing score, there is really little fun to be had.  These failures, clearly apparent as they are, may have been (at lest partially) forgiven if A Good Day to Die Hard hadn’t gone one step further and broken not one, not two, but three rules of the Die Hard universe. Slight number one: Die Hard films are always secretly about a big, lucrative heist, even though the villains' plan seems grander in scope. No such twist. Reprimand the second: Die Hard films pair McClane with an inexperienced or in-over-his-head partner – Sgt. Al Powell, Zeus Carver, Mathew Farrell – but one who will rise to the occasion in the end. The addition of John’s son Jack (Jai Courtney) who turns out to be a CIA operative, is just the killing machine as dear old dad. Chalk another dynamic tossed into the scrap heap.  And finally, the most egregious error on the part of this film, major fault number three: Die Hard films force McClane into action; he never thrusts himself intentionally into it. But lo and behold, not twenty minutes in “Good Day” McClane has stolen a truck in Russia and is chasing down bad guys who are pursuing his son (who has been charged with murder by the way) before he even knows they are the bad guys. This far into the game Die Hard doesn’t need a fundamental retool, it needs fresh laughs, characters and action. A Good Day to Die Hard also proves how many times is too many for someone to jump through a window, engage in a battle with a helicopter and get caught up in a shootout before you realize that their really should be police showing up by now. It also proves that it is indeed possible, with the combination of blaring score and explosion sound effects, to drown out dialogue. Yes, despite the return of the R-rating and McClane’s signature catch phrase, the moment he utters it is so damn loud, you can’t even make it out amongst the static.  I could go into detail about the thin plot that shoves John and Jack around Russia, but that would be a pointless endeavor. Aside from some solid action set pieces, A Good Day to Die Hard fails to create an interesting dynamic between anyone, hammers home the themes of mending family ties and can’t even craft a decent villain when it’s all said and done. Actually (and ironically) it’s Skip Woods who’s the real villain here. He’s scripted a Die Hard film so limp that he’s made me want to see another instalment not because we need it, but because I would literally lose sleep at night if this was how the legend of John McClane ended.


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