There’s not a single good day to watch the latest Bruce Willis action opus “A Good Day to Die Hard.” It’s just a bloated, over-produced, over-wrought, and just plain silly journey to the bad side of politically dysfunctional Moscow, where the only good Russian doesn’t appear to exist (except for an off-key singing taxi driver), and the only bad Russian is a dead one. Following in the same misguided footsteps as this season’s “Bullet to the Head” and “The Last Stand,” with its action-packed heroics surrounding a barebones (if that) script, director John Moore pummels the viewers senses with explosions up your proverbial wazoo, prodigious amounts of carnage (emphasis on the “car”), and some bad-a*s machinery, including the huge “Miss Belarus” Mi-26T helicopter. Despite the massive amount of ammunition that gets Dolby-blasted across the screen, it’s incredible how few of the bullets actually hit the “good” guys, comprised of New York Police Detective John McClane (Willis) and his estranged son, Jack (Australian actor Jai Courtney, recently seen in “Jack Reacher”).
In the 25 years since “Die Hard” gave destructively delicious meaning to Christmas (and birthed one of cinema’s greatest villains), a handful of sequels (and video games) have sputtered out, the last, in 2007, being “Live Free or Die Hard.” The films alone have collectively grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Curiosity about McClane pere et fils, no doubt, will probably bring the public into multiplexes here (Variety is tracking the film northward of $50 million over the extended Presidents Day weekend) and overseas (its initial release over the last week in just a few Asian countries already generated over $10 million), and if you like a lot of bang for your ruble, you’ll definitely find it here. Bring earplugs, just in case.
Having wreaked havoc on Los Angeles, Washington, New York, and Baltimore, someone (presumably screenwriter Skip Woods) thought it would be a good idea to take the action overseas. The scenic, politically corrupt heart of Mother Russia (actually filmed in and around Budapest, Hungary—I was there on vacation when it was filming, but all I saw were the support vehicles) is the center of the action, where an imprisoned protester, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), is about to go on a very public trial and become a very big embarrassment for the opposition, at the hands of defense minister Viktor Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), his old Iron Curtain ally/artifact. How does John McClane get involved? The usual wrong place at the wrong time. He’s a “tourist” in Moscow armed with an “Idiots Travel Guide,” arriving just as Jack is brought in as a self-manufactured state witness to the court (the protest outside feels like a festive block party), trying to help the son he hasn’t seen in years.
There are other über-paramilitary antagonists afoot under the direction of Chagarin, including his sadistic henchman, the carrot-chomping, tap-dancing Alik (Rasha Bukvic), who is very determined to destroy the traffic flow near the Moskva River by crushing hundreds of vehicles in pursuit of Yuri, who has escaped with the assistance of Jack, an undercover CIA agent (news to dad, who is mucking up, big time, the getaway). As breathtaking—or nauseating, because of the frantic camerawork and editing—as this extended car chase is (John commandeers a few vehicles in pursuit of the pursuers), it’s totally ludicrous in its cartoonish structure. Too much coincidence and luck tossed into the streets to make it feel genuine. The score by Marco Beltrami might suggest a mission impossible, but the movie’s reality is more like a poor man’s Wile E. Coyote-Road Runner cartoon.
(Trivia Note: For those who remember, the boy that was John McLane Jr. in the original film was played by Noah Land (his only role). John’s sister Lucy (then played by Taylor Fry; now, as in the 2007 sequel, by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), has nearly nothing to do in “Good Day” other than to offer car service to the airport.)
Irish-born commercials director Moore’s scorecard is filled with low scoring feature game attractions, including “Behind Enemy Lines” (2001) to the lackluster 2004 remake “Flight of the Phoenix,” to the sorrowful 2006 remake of “The Omen” to the underperforming “Max Payne,” of 2008. With so many retreads, his tires are now apparently bald (yet probably profitable) as it skids around the Borscht belt.
Willis plays along with the action, offering up the occasional one-liner (“I’m on f*****g VACATION!) as the story, featuring too many double crosses to count) heads to the Chernobyl nuclear plant and the script flies out the window. So does logic (it’s happened in earlier “Die Hard” films, as well), as the “short” drive that the McClanes take from Moscow to the the uninviting disaster zone is, according to Google Maps, at least a 12-hour drive, assuming they got through the local traffic jams. Sounds like fun? Nope.