Not So Hard
By Carl Kozlowski
It’s been a quarter-century since Bruce Willis helped revolutionize the modern action movie genre in the first Die Hard film. Playing a wisecracking yet relatable Everyman cop named John McClane, Willis not only knew how to kick ass and score laughs but also jerk tears from the audience as he bled profusely and begged a fellow cop to tell his wife he loved her if he died.
Of course, McClane survived that ordeal, and then went on to further adventures in three sequels. But while the last one, 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, proved to be the biggest moneymaker of the series, it’s hard to tell whether viewers will be ready to embrace McClane’s character once again amid a national debate over gun control and a disastrous month in which Willis’ fellow ’80s action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone suffered terrible box office returns with their own comeback movies.
That doesn’t mean Willis and his studio, 20th Century Fox, will give up on another potential windfall, and they may indeed find success with this weekend’s release of A Good Day to Die Hard. Following the misadventures of McClane as he travels to Moscow to find out why his now-grown son is on trial for serious crimes, only to find that his offspring is a CIA agent on a top-secret mission, the movie is rip-roaring fun for the first 70 minutes, with father and son going from battling each other to being buddies while saving the world.
To say much more about the plot would ruin a good deal of the fun, but the basic setup is that a rich Russian is about to be railroaded through a bogus trial and face either a death sentence or life imprisonment on trumped-up charges. McClane’s embittered son, John Jr., who hates the fact that his dad was a workaholic while he was growing up, has gotten himself arrested as well in order to get close to the billionaire in prison—giving the Russian authorities a fake offer that he’ll lie on the stand to help convict their prisoner. But that will only happen if he’s transported to the courtroom with the billionaire and allowed to see him face to face.
Mid-trial, an elaborate escape attempt occurs in which the younger McClane helps the billionaire evade the authorities amid the mayhem caused by gunfire and explosions. But Junior doesn’t know that his very confused dad has shown up to help bail him out, and soon the two are on the run across Moscow in yet another series of car chases and pyrotechnics.
So far so good, to the point that I gasped audibly at the amazing stunt work during the climax of the slam-bang car chase that kicks the film into high gear after the courtroom escape. There’s also a couple of well-written scenes between Willis and Jai Courtney as his son in which they reconcile, maintaining the series’ standard of keeping McClane’s humanity more intact than most action heroes.
At about 70 minutes in, the movie reveals a triple whammy plot twist that gives viewers hope that the new Die Hard will once again prove to be a classic. But then, suddenly, it all falls apart.
Each of the four prior Die Hard films clocked in at more than two hours. They needed to, because their mid-movie plot twists always spun things off in elaborate new directions, giving viewers the equivalent of two movies in one.
But the new film hits the closing credits at exactly 90 minutes from its beginning, meaning that the big surprise about the villain doesn’t pay off with a fanciful second half. Rather, for no apparent reason, it just leads to an overly elaborate final action sequence which is devoid of the series’ trademark humorous humanity and a string of absurdly obvious CGI effects.
That’s not saying the movie is awful. It’s certainly more ambitious and vastly more entertaining than either Arnold’s or Sly’s pathetic offerings. But it seems like even the team behind the fifth episode is starting to realize there’s nowhere left to go creatively.
Seriously, why have McClane keep ranting he’s on vacation, like he was in the first movie, when the plot makes it clear he’s traveled halfway around the world to save his son from the Russian prison system? How many times can filmmakers lazily drag out the tired scene where the good guys are caught by the bad guys and ought to be shot dead instantly, but instead hear a really long speech in which the villain gloats about how evil he is, giving the good guys extra time to free themselves? And what kind of person realizes they have their own catchphrase and finds a way to use it every time their adventures unfold, in movie after movie, like McClane does with “Yippie Ki Yay?”
It’s as if everyone involved simply gave up after the admirable hustle shown in the film’s first hour. They might think that they’ve got a worthy entry in the Die Hard series, but the sad reality is the film just falls flaccid.