A Good Day To Die Hard Review: An Embarrassing Sequel With Few Redeeming Qualities

rating: 1.5

Those who felt that John McClane's last bad day, Live Free or Die Hard, didn't feel quite Die Hard enough will find themselves prepping an apology to Len Wiseman once they emerge from A Good Day To Die Hard, the fourth sequel in the series and the one that will finally prove that it's time to put the beloved action hero out to pasture. Another personal story for McClane (Willis), he travels to Russia to save his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for assassinating a man in a night club. However, the pair soon enough uncover a wide conspiracy, and the plot clumsily waltzes its way through a political intrigue scenario involving a Macguffin in the way of a top secret file, stolen Plutonium stashes and double crosses, though I suspect most audiences will struggle to recount all this, given how hard it is to actually care about anything that's going on in this, dare I say, boring film. Playing out like a double bill of two particularly naff 24 episodes, or better yet, a 24 TV movie taking place in Russia - no doubt a cynical ploy by Fox to make the film more appealing to the booming Russian film market - this is meek action cinema at its most insulting and patronising. Bruce Willis seems frequently tired and distracted, but at least he's still in good shape and has the physical requirements down pat. The real disappointment is his screen son, Jai Courtney; sporting a rickety American accent - watch his natural Aussie drawl creep in during some brief respite in an elevator - he is an uninspired, bland choice for an uninspired, bland character, mostly a fault of the script but entirely unaided by his dull portrayal. While McClane's dialogues with daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth McClane) still prove engaging even in this film, pairing him up with a younger equivalent of himself oddly reaps few rewards. There's plenty of familial squabbling but it's all painfully transparent and witless; that classic, sly humanity to Willis' character is absent, somewhat exacerbated by the fact that it all looks too easy for him this time - there's never that fleeting fear of mortal danger. As for the supporting characters, they're so thinly drawn you'll struggle to remember their names, many of them being Russian doing little to help. Radivoje BukviĀ‡'s Alik gets a few brief moments to shine as the carrot-chomping, tap dancing villain, but he's not a touch on the series' previous foes, who were actually developed as believable, sometimes even likeable characters in their own rights. The target audience will of course make no mistake that the most appealing player of the lot is Yuliya Snigir's Irina, Komarov's a sexy femme fatale who, regrettably, barely begins the strip-tease featured in the trailer before Moore cruelly cuts away (talk about false advertising). Much has been made in recent days of Fox again treating British audiences like a crass marketing experiment over their decision to edit the film to attain a 12A rating (the previous films were rated at least 15). As they did with Taken 2, Fox have cut small but vital shots which convey the satisfying brutality of the violence, and the result is a limp product that feels more like something you might see on the Fox TV network rather than in one of their feature films. Again, much like Fox's own hit show 24, characters are violently shot to death but rarely leak even a drop of blood. To add insult to injury, the UK's neutered edit obscures Willis' signature line with the slam of a car pedal; given that the f-word is used several other times throughout the film, why not show some sense and substitute one previous expletive for use in this more crowd-pleasing context? All this trimming wouldn't be such a big deal if the action delivered, and though the scale of the opening car chase through crowded Russian roads is impressive - it might be the longest set-piece in the entire history of the series - Moore's intrusive coverage never lets us just enjoy the spectacle of it all. He's too busy frantically zooming, cutting, shaking the camera all over the place, and basically getting too close to the carnage to give us a correct frame of spatial reference, making all those fab stunts seem oddly underwhelming and occasionally disorientating. In fact, most of the inspired moments are literally inspired moments, such as John revisiting his Nakotami Plaza experience by opting to shower his enemies in a hail of gunfire and glass. The film's many monotonous shootouts resemble the consequence-free mayhem of video games, while one gunfight with a shirtless, burly crony totting a heavy machine gun feels like a boss fight that ends all too easily. If Moore's messy direction already brings the coherence of the action into question, Skip Woods' brain-damaged screenplay doesn't much help either; the villain's twisted logic at the film's finale really has to be seen to be believed, liable to induce more laughs than fist pumps from the audience. This sequence is brought home by some visual effects which range from impressively elaborate - the elephantine explosions of the fiery finale - to risible, easily-spotted green-screen work, most noticeably when McClane clings desperately to the tail of a helicopter, before being flung through a window. This 97-minute excursion - easily the shortest in the series by almost half an hour - feels rushed at most all times, rarely stopping to wise-crack or give its characters moments to breathe, yet in the end, we're relieved that it's all over so fast. Long-time fans are sure to be dismayed by the lack of regard for almost every identifying hallmark of the previous four Die Hard films; wit, character development, discernible action, cast chemistry, and most importantly, enthusiasm. John McClane's latest outing delivers everything you should expect from the minds responsible for tripe like Max Payne and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Still, blame Bruce Willis for this wretched mess of a movie; he had the power to bin the script and insist on a director with a proven track record. A Good Day To Die Hard is in cinemas today.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.