What do you get when you put a 25-year old action series, along with its aging protagonist, together with the director of “Max Payne” and “The Omen,” and the screenwriter of the notoriously incompetent “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”?
If you guessed the first great action flick of 2013, you would be wrong. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?
What you do get unfortunately, is “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth entry in the Bruce Willis starring series that follows John McClane, a New York City police officer, who has been in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” since the original “Die Hard” was released in 1988.
Directed by John Moore and written by Skip Woods, Die Hard 5 takes the series that had already distanced itself from its classic framework and almost makes it a parody of itself.
John McClane used to be a finely crafted character, with a seemingly endless barrel of wise cracks to spout off to over confident mad men. Now Willis is given the bare essentials of his iconic character. The dialogue penned by Woods is uninspired and repetitive as McClane is heard yelling, “I’m on vacation!” at least five times as he dispatches one faceless Russian terrorist after another.
Where McClane used to be given allies that offered a complementary balance to his own abrasive personality, this time he’s paired with his estranged, CIA employed son Jack, played by Jai Courtney (“Jack Reacher”). McClane is in Russia to find out why his son shot a man in a Russian club and is now being put on trial.
Did I mention he’s in the CIA? Guess who forgot to tell father dearest?
All of this is part of a lifeless first act that could be mistaken for any low-budget action movie, something Willis has been very familiar with before a career resurgence last year.
You’ll be hard pressed to find any chemistry between the Willis and Courtney, whose “banter” involves non-stop yelling, none of which is amusing or constructive. Most of the time it feels like John McClane is just tagging along in his son’s adventure, which is something “Die Hard” doesn’t need.
The movie’s most dynamic action set piece is a long, erratic and poorly shot car chase through the streets of Moscow as Jack and the man he’s assigned to protect, played by Sebastian Koch, are chased by movie’s head henchman, who is in turn chased by McClane Senior.
I’m not vehemently opposed to the shaky camera technique that has become a staple of the genre since “The Bourne Identity” in 2002. However, Moore carelessly deploys it here, along with incoherent editing, to give the audience no chance at understanding the geography of the scene.
You can get choreography that is more competent and more fulfilling action scenes from the last film I reviewed, “The Last Stand.”
What’s even more interesting is that the chase will be 30 percent longer on Moore’s DVD Director’s Cut according to Empire Magazine.
The Die Hard series is known for having interesting and well-acted villains who come with a twist to oppose John McClane, with Alan Rickman’s (Snape in “Harry Potter”) Hans Gruber from the original still being the gold standard.
However, the previous film’s “twists” usually involved what the villain’s goal really is. With Die Hard 5, the attempted twist also keeps you from knowing who you’re supposed to be rooting against until the last 15 minutes, which dovetails with an over the top, CGI filled climax with unnecessarily slow motion explosions.
Every once in a while, what made the first four “Die Hards” either great or decent flashes through. But whether it be a dead panned line from Willis or a nice, but not so subtle reference to the original, it doesn’t make up for a sloppy and tedious fifth installment.