The one thing you'll probably hear a great deal about as you read reviews of the fifth DIE HARD film, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, is that its running time is 97 minutes (92 minutes when the end credits start rolling). What you may not realize is that, while that may seem like a ridiculously short film, I want to personally thank the maker of the latest John McClane effort for not putting me through another second of this unbearable shadow of a movie. Plus, even at its abbreviated length, the film feels endless; never has 97 minutes felt like a David Lean movie, minus any hint of quality control.
The most disappointing thing about A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (and the list of disappointments is as long as my arm) is that John McClane (Bruce Willis) feels like a bit player in this over-crowded story that includes Russian criminals, missing files, a prison break, helicopter attacks, weapons-grade uranium, and even the "truth" behind the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
And through all of it, it seems as though Willis is playing catch-up with his own image. His one-liners are lame, when they can be heard over the wall-to-wall explosions that will literally damage your ears. The filmmakers have burdened us with an overly serious storyline and then attempt to lighten the mood with McClane's inappropriate behavior and comedy routines.
McClane spends a great deal of the movie complaining about how he's supposed to be on vacation, but even that tired gag doesn't make sense because the whole reason he's in Russia is to rescue his son Jack (JACK REACHER's Jai Courtney), who has been accused with murder and is on trial along with a Russian scientist (Sebastian Koch from THE LIVES OF OTHERS and BLACK BOOK). Turns out Jack works for the CIA, a fact that John apparently never knew because he's been estranged from his son for several years. Jack has been charged with rescuing the scientist since he has evidence hidden somewhere against a major Russian underworld figure. Naturally, John McClane steps into the middle of this shitstorm, and soon father and son are evading bullets, rocket launchers, and every other conceivable weapon the bad guys can throw at them.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD want us to believe so desperately that John McClane is a man of the people, an ordinary Joe, who just happens to find himself at ground zero of these major catastrophic events, and those days are long gone. The biggest joke of the movie are when John and Jack attempt to reconcile and make up for years of lost time, but we get the sense that John is happiest when his and his son's lives are in great danger. In this version of Die Hard, John is a lost soul, a man who can't function in polite society. And I guess the folks who made this entry see that as an enviable trait. But really, it makes this one of the most obnoxious characters I've seen in the "hero" role in quite some time.
Willis has made some questionable role choices in his career, but between LOOPER and MOONRISE KINGDOM, I thought maybe he was turning a later-in-life corner. And I was hoping his newfound sensibility might carry over into his action roles, but clearly the opposite is true. Between the empty-headed caricature of himself he plays in The Expendables films and this (the jury has yet to be convened on G.I. JOE: RETALIATION), he seems to be retreating into the familiar, or worse: the irrelevant self parody.
I'd love to put as much of the blame on director John Moore's (MAX PAYNE, THE OMEN remake, FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX remake) shoulders as I possibly can. The visuals of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD are headache-inducing at best. During one early car chase involving three vehicles, it's like Moore is daring us to keep track of what the hell is going on. It felt like the action scenes were shot in close up, so you can barely tell who's shooting, who's being shot out, who's getting killed, who's driving what. You name it, and there's probably something about it that's confusing.
Look, I still think Bruce Willis is a viable, enjoyable action star. But nothing but the title of this film feels like a DIE HARD movie. Something about John McClane used to be roguishly charming; now, he's an asshole without a brain in his head who has almost been rendered unable to speak by the people in charge of this franchise. He may look confident, but he feels lost in his own movie. And after watching this chaotic mess of a film, I wish I'd gotten lost going to this movie.