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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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In Movies & TV Reviews

Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch star in "A Good Day to Die Hard."

Yippee-ki-lame: Fifth "Die Hard" a disappointing misfire


When "Live Free or Die Hard" came out in the summer of 2007, fans were outraged that John McClane's fourth cinematic adventure would be of the PG-13 variety. Never mind the fact that director Len Wiseman's blockbuster was a ton of fun, filled with sweet action – mostly of the practical variety ­– and entertaining banter. If there was no blood and no profanity, some fanboys cried, then it wasn't John McClane, and it wasn't a "Die Hard" movie.

True, it was a transparent attempt for a bigger box office result and led to some clumsy edits, but it still felt like "Die Hard." To argue that the McClane character is defined entirely by f-words and bloody wounds seems like pretty immature thinking.

Not to sound vindictive, but I hope you whiners are happy now. Thanks to "A Good Day to Die Hard," you got your f-bombs and blood splatter back. The only problem is that, in the process, the fifth installment ends up removing everything that actually made McClane and his franchise one of the most beloved of the action genre. All that's left is a brain dead blow-'em-up that could only please the most forgiving of fans.

Years after saving America from cyber-terrorists, McClane (a still-capable Bruce Willis) is taking his act overseas to Russia. He's not visiting for vacation purposes – despite how many times he illogically says so. Instead, McClane is checking in on his distant troubled son Jack (Jai Courtney of "Jack Reacher"), who is awaiting trial for murdering some random guy at a Russian nightclub.

Jack might not be as lost and wayward as John previously thought, however. As it turns out, McClane Jr. is working for the CIA, attempting to get a Russian witness (Sebastian Koch) with dirt on a corrupt politician safely out of the country and into America's protection. Things, as they must, go south, causing the younger McClane and his snitch to fight their way across a shockingly deserted Moscow with John nagging his way into joining the mission and a deadly mercenary (Radivoje Bukvic) in pursuit.

McClane may have battled terrorists, hackers, revenge-seeking thieves and Hans Gruber in the past, but he faces his toughest, most sadistic villain yet in "A Good Day to Die Hard": a hack screenwriter.

Scribe Skip Woods brings the same vigorous distaste for logic and entertainment that he gave films like "Hitman" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Thinking about Jack's plan to break his political prisoner out of court for longer than a couple of seconds is a great way to get very frustrated, and it only gets more preposterous from there. "A Good Day to Die Hard" is the kind of film where the villains walk around unmasked in broad daylight with their machine guns out and strafe buildings in their evil helicopters. How does anybody expect to deny or get away with any of this?

The script features multiple villains, none of them memorable (Bukvic is given a stiff, out-of-nowhere five-minute monologue in which he chews on a carrot and rants about why he hates America, freedom and puppies), and the big twist near the end revealing the bad guy's diabolical master plan would require several lead paint martinis to make any sense whatsoever. It's the kind of shoddy storytelling that's both overly convoluted and undercooked.

For "Die Hard" fans, however, Woods' greatest crime is what he does to one of the most legendary characters in the action movie genre. For the first half of the movie, McClane is an annoying nagging sidekick, complaining and bickering with his son between every explosion. Woods' script doesn't give him anything particularly funny or clever to say either. It's usually just a variation of "Jack!" or "I'm on vacation."

McClane is also no longer an everyman who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he's chasing down the bad guys (killing a lot of innocent Russians in the process), seemingly desperate to be involved in this movie somehow. Gone are the days when John had to be careful about merely stepping on glass and having bloody feet. Now, he just explodes through multiple panes of glass like it's nothing, gets hit by cars without taking a scratch and is generally an unstoppable superhero made of Kevlar. Not even radiation can faze John McClane now (because apparently we have devices that can vanquish nuclear radiation now. Sure … ).

Director John Moore (whose previous film was the much maligned "Max Payne" adaptation) doesn't help matters by filming the action with a fair amount of shaky cam and then editing it to death, awkwardly fitting in repetitive action movie quips wherever he can. Even a simple sequence involving a bad guy talking on a phone deserves to become a permanent fixture in the Bad Filmmaking Museum for its bizarre overdirection.

Moore's sense of pacing also seems to have taken a hard hit to the back of the head. Barely any time is truly given to developing our father-son relationship, just a few clumsy lumps of exposition, while scenes involving a cheerful Russian taxi driver (who is never seen or heard from again) feel like they last forever. When we finally reach the epic climax at Chernobyl – yes, that Chernobyl. That sensation you just felt was your heart sinking – it appears we get there too early because about 15 minutes go by without anyone doing anything.

Considering the amount of action, it shouldn't be a surprise that there are a few pretty awesome moments. An extended freeway car chase and a raid on a CIA safe house both provide some explosive, giggle-inducing fun, especially since they look fairly real (sadly, CG becomes a bit of a crutch as the film goes along).

Those moments of genuine fun, however, are few and far between. The only way you can walk out of "A Good Day to Die Hard" satisfied is if you go in wanting literally nothing but explosions, and even then, you'll have to try not to be disappointed.



Theaters and showtimes for A Good Day to Die Hard
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