Mark Reviews Movies

A Good Day to Die Hard


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Moore

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Rasha Bukvic

MPAA Rating: R (for violence and language)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 2/14/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 13, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard is an experiment in reductive storytelling. Here is a movie that doesn't even bother to explain the first plot point until about 30 minutes into the movie. Even then, it's not exactly clear what any character is doing, and if we want to know why the characters are going around Moscow causing inexplicable destruction, we're just going to have to make it up as we go.

That seems to be the philosophy of screenwriter Skip Woods, whose screenplay consists of thinly sketched setups for various action sequences. Those begin even before we have the semblance of a clue as to why we should have any investment in them, and by the time we have an inkling of what the hell is happening in the movie (just an inkling and never more than that), we've gone through an extended car chase and at least two shootouts.

As for our hero, John McClane (Brue Willis) has now completed the transformation into an indestructible superhuman—a move that began with the previous entry in the franchise and is taken to absurd extremes here. It's about an hour into the movie before he shows any sign of injury, and before you think there's nothing wrong with that, take into account that in the first chase scene he's involved in two major car crashes (In the first, the car he's in does multiple flips over a row of parked vehicles before landing upside-down) and hit by another car while standing in the street. He's at least got a rip in his pants by the end of the seemingly never-ending chase.

McClane is in Moscow to see his son Jack (Jai Courtney), who during the hit-the-ground-running prologue (that hints at the majority of the central conflict without explaining any of it) shoots a man in cold blood at a Moscow night club. He's agreed to testify that Komarov (Sebastian Koch), the political prisoner of a vaguely nefarious man in power named Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), hired him for the murder. Just as the trial is about to begin, Chagarin's main henchman Alik (Rasha Bukvic) explodes a series of car bombs and storms the courtroom with his men. Jack, a CIA agent assigned to get Komarov out of the country after obtaining some secret file on Chagarin, tries to flee with the prisoner, but McClane jumps in front of the truck his son has stolen.

The details above are the extent of the plot. Nothing else is explained, save for the reason for a trip to Chernobyl for the climactic action sequence, and in the end, even that reason doesn't matter. There are a couple of betrayals and double crosses that ultimately mean nothing because of a last-act twist that makes even the little plot we've received irrelevant.

Woods' screenplay isn't so much a mess as it is a rough draft; it aspires to messiness. The villains are imprecise, and one adds dancing to the mix of the error of the bad guy who talks too much. McClane and Jack have a turbulent relationship, exchanging insults and patronizing remarks through most of the movie before it becomes obvious that they need to make up before the final showdown. Whatever history McClane possesses is reduced to him shouting one-liners (We hear, "I'm on vacation," at least four times over the course of the movie; Jack mumbles, "Damn you, John," at least as many times in five minutes) and pointing out that something seems wrong with whatever loaded scenario he and Jack arrive at before the bullets start flying.

When the action starts, the movie moves into the realm of incoherence. Director John Moore's aggressively disorienting execution begins with that chase sequence. While it doesn't help that we have no idea what the stakes are, the rapid cuts and violently shifting camera positions ensure that there's no sense of geography to the sequence. It's simply an assembly of chaos with cars flipping into the air or being crushed by forceful impacts. Moore occasionally inserts to a wide shot of the most damaging devastation or a slow-motion shot of people looking at each other in disbelief.

Massive, unpolished, and perfunctory destruction is the movie's modus operandi, and without a plot to give it any meaning or characters to give it any personality, the wanton chaos becomes tiresome and redundant. A military helicopter sprays shells through a hotel ballroom as John and Jack sprint through the fire, only to tumble down scaffolding to safety, and later, the same helicopter shoots at them at Chernobyl. Whatever future this series may have, A Good Day to Die Hard is its current nadir.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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