A Good Day to Die Hard (aka Die Hard 5: The Deadening) wants so desperately to harken back to the days of the earliest couple of films in the franchise that it’s practically palpable, yet it fails on most every level. Like a graduate course in mediocrity, it just feels absolutely lazy.
It’s not surprising that, like John McClaine himself, the series is showing its age, but all of the previous sequels, even the much maligned PG-13 fourth installment, have been well-made and well-acted with snappy scripts and fun performances.
While it’s nice to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead appear for all of two minutes as Lucy (reprising her role from Live Free or Die hard), John “Jack” McClaine Jr., as portrayed by Jai Courtney, is a total dud as an addition to the family McClaine slowly seems to be reassembling in his old age. If they make a sixth film, will Bonnie Bedelia be back? They can call it “Til’ Die Hard Do Us Part.”
In a move pretty much spoiled by the trailers, McClaine heads to Moscow in this installment to find his estranged boy, not knowing he has been off on a mission for the CIA for the last few years. Rather than build any kind of relationship for them at the beginning, the film simply throws up lazy cliches of McClaine not being there for his kids and Jack being terminally angry in order to hurry into the first action sequence, which takes a tried-and-true three-way freeway chase and turns it into a mess of bad editing. It is at this point that McClaine starts his awful running joke of saying every fifteen minutes that he’s “on vacation,” despite the fact that he obviously is not, unless going to stop your son from being executed is a vacation.
But that’s the kind of movie it is. It’s so determined to pack in every single thing it thinks you expect from an action movie that it doesn’t bother to make sense of it. It’s like a kid with a jigsaw puzzle and a mallet, smashing pieces together that don’t fit so they don’t make sense as a picture and then saying, “Close enough.”
Given how director John Moore managed to screw up a sure thing like Max Payne, it shouldn’t surprise me that he managed to blow this one. I’m trying to figure out where this whole thing fell apart. It certainly starts with the script, but the editing is also poor and makes it difficult to follow the action (which should be the film’s bread and butter) while nearly all of the movie’s principals are sleepwalking their way through it. Between Moonrise Kingdom and Looper last year we’ve seen that Willis still has his acting chops, but maybe even he just didn’t feel he could elevate the hackneyed material. While he was not the wisecracking everyman cop from the first film anymore even before the series reached this point, there was still some of the old McClaine in the fourth film, albeit hardened by his experiences and more curmudgeonly. There is basically none of the original McClaine left in A Good Day to Die Hard.
Instead the character is now a one-dimensional joke. The film lazily makes callbacks to the original film as a way to try to make the audience think this facsimile is the genuine article (McClaine’s ringtone is “Ode to Joy,” one of the bad guys makes reference to how much he hates cowboys, etc.) but the audience should not be fooled. It doesn’t help that most of his forced one-liners were old when Willis’ career began. It’s a sad commentary that the series that broke the mold and changed what an action film could be has sunk to being the very kind of film they were avoiding. In the first film and beyond, the filmmakers made a point of showing McClaine getting hurt due to his heroics. Now, he falls through glass ceilings, flies through the air and down building sides and aside from a smattering of fake blood, he seems to suffer no ill-effects. His son takes some rebar through the torso and is fine hours later.
There are some interesting ideas on display here as far as the action sequences are concerned, but nearly all of them are mishandled, poorly coreographed and incoherent.
After this disappointment, I am wondering what will become of the franchise. Perhaps its failure will convince Fox to hang it up and call it a day, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In a few years, we’ll probably be seeing Die, Die Hard My Darling. The Die Hard is Cast? If I Should Die Hard Before I Wake, maybe? Regardless, this might be the installment that finally proves the name wrong.
(One and a half damns out of five)