Rock Bottom: Die Hard 5 at Direct-to-DVD Level

The Die Hard franchise has reached its Batman & Robin moment: the fifth installment in the once-exciting series, A Good Day to Die Hard, is an unspeakably dull and shoddy product that, were it not for the presence of Bruce Willis, would be indistinguishable from a quickie genre film made for the European straight-to-video market.

Disastrous on every level, the film is ugly to look at, choppy in plot, woeful in special effects (you could have photoshopped a more convincing image of Willis’s John McClane dangling from the bumper of a truck that is itself dangling from a helicopter), and tiresome in its gimmicks. This time, as if to recreate the magic of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which looks like a fine piece of cinema by comparison, McClane butts heads/joins forces with his son Jack (actually John Jr.), who, to John Sr.’s surprise and ours, turns out to be a superspy working for the CIA in Russia. Jack is played by a surly side of beef named Jai Courtney, who vaguely resembles Willis but has all the charisma of your average rutabaga.

At the beginning of the movie, McClane is in New York discussing his son’s plight with a fellow cop. His boy is in a Russian prison, so naturally McClane (who barely knows the kid, having long been estranged from him) kisses his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) goodbye and boards the first plane to Moscow — even though his boy has not requested his help and doesn’t need it.

Russia is seething about the upcoming show trial of a politically persecuted figure, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who refuses to hand over a mysterious “file” wanted both by gangster-ish Russian authorities and the CIA. Jack McClane, who is undercover as a Russian, arranges to get himself put in the same prison and brought to the same courtroom side by side with the dissident, having offered the prosecution an irresistible deal: McClane will claim that Komarov paid him to carry out an assassination.

This development doesn’t make a lot of sense (if Russian higher-ups can conduct circus trials, why would they need help from an unknown outsider to win a conviction?), but it at least leads to a massive prison-break scene in which the courthouse gets blown up in order to free Komarov and McClane Jr., who with CIA help promptly flee to a safe house.

At least that’s the plan, but McClane Senior, who inserts himself into the drama (despite his son, who calls him John, repeatedly telling him to get lost), messes everything up and finds himself at the wheel of a large truck as the two fugitives flee Russian thugs.

Bam. Pow. Boom. The three-way chase is long (nearly 20 minutes), and it’s certainly loud, with plenty of crunching steel and squealing tires, but thanks to sloppy editing and a lack of urgency in the story (far from being terrified of the villains, we barely know who they are, plus John McC doesn’t even belong here) it’s about as dramatically affecting as a demolition derby. The director, John Moore, is an undistinguished journeyman (his credits include the remake of Flight of the Phoenix, the remake of The Omen and Max Payne), which is a nice way of saying he’s a talentless hack.

The choices of such inexplicable mediocrities as Courtney and Moore to be costar and director in an installment of one of Twentieth Century Fox’s proudest franchises scream “cost-cutting move,” and yet the rest of the movie is if anything even worse than the so-so chase scene. John and Jack spend the movie bitching at each other, tossing out brainless one-liners (Willis repeats the “Yippee ki-yay” line one more time, in a pitiable play for the nostalgia vote) and gradually learning to work together as they shepherd Komarov through a series of attacks. As it turns out, the “file” everyone has been after gets forgotten, and the ultimate goal turns out to be… what it always turns out to be: protecting a stash of enriched uranium.

The climax, set at night in an industrial wasteland that looks like New Jersey’s worst nightmare, is eyeball-scorchingly unattractive, eardrum-puncturingly loud and mindlessly dull, as John and Jack face off against the mob’s sexiest killing machine Irina (Yuliya Snigir), who tries to take everyone out with a helicopter. Mountains of ammo are expended by each side, but as Willis dashes around cracking wise, there’s no sense of him actually outsmarting the villains as in the sanctified original Die Hard 25 years ago. Instead, he just seems lucky and indestructible, ducking under gunfire and effortlessly pulling off feats of physical fitness that don’t look terribly likely for a man Willis’s age. The thrills in this scene and in this movie are, as a result, nonexistent: It all just seems tired and absurd. A Good Day to Die Hard is a good way to die of boredom.


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