Die Hard: A good day to ruin a franchise

Bruce Willis’s latest pyrotechnics extravaganza rides the wave of action-movie nostalgia, but seemingly takes its inspiration from the blandest of bland action vehicles.

Bruce Willis

Like the latest efforts of his fellow Expendables (Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand, Stallone in Bullet to the Head), Bruce Willis’s latest pyrotechnics extravaganza rides the wave of action-movie nostalgia that’s currently in vogue. Unlike those, however, it seemingly takes its inspiration from the blandest of bland action vehicles, full of moustache-twirling villains, cacophonous action, simplistic jingoism and hopelessly dated Cold War paranoia. It’s mid-level ’90s Jean-Claude Van Damme at best, dressed up in its CGI Sunday best to little avail. A Good Day to Die Hard’s most egregious sin is not how terrible and futile it is, but really how it manages to besmirch the name of a stone-cold classic in the process.

John McClane (Willis) is informed that his son Jack (Jai Courtney) is in a heap of trouble over in Russia and is facing the death penalty for unnamed charges. McClane takes some precious time off in order to get Jack out of trouble, only to find himself tearing down half of the city minutes after his arrival trying to protect the kid from bad guys.

It turns out that his son is actually working for the CIA and trying to protect a fallen politician’s secrets from some unsavoury characters, who may or may not want to use them to uncover a cache of plutonium hidden in the ruins of Chernobyl. Father and son must put their ill-defined differences aside and work together to save the world from certain destruction through well-placed one-liners (yes, he says “yipee-kay-yay”) and generalized destruction.

After the last installment’s harebrained hacker storyline, it would have been more than a little foolish to expect rich and rewarding storytelling from this incarnation, but evil Russians hoarding plutonium from Chernobyl? The plot is so generic that it seems culled from a demonstration screenplay one might find in cheap screenwriting software, and it hardly benefits from the trademark John McClane wit; 80% of Willis’ dialogue revolves around the running joke that he’s actually on vacation (and not supposed to be driving jeeps into planes or whatever the fuck else he does here), delivered in the tired, husky monotone Willis usually reserves for his (increasingly frequent) partnerships with 50 Cent. This isn’t the character from the beloved franchise (and the character, at this point, is really all that’s left); it’s just the same actor in the same bloodied tank top going through the motions.

The action is constant but frantic to the point of incoherence; only an opening car chase that turns into a mid-sized natural disaster veers away from the template of CGI fire and people crashing through windows. Courtney holds his own in the thankless second banana role, but truth be told, neither of the protagonists seem like the focus of the film. Instead we get generic Eurotrash baddies yelling instructions into walkie-talkies, exposition worthy of cell-phone videogames, tons of slow motion and dialogue about the greatness of America awkwardly shoehorned in. A Good Day to Die Hard is terrible, but it doesn’t even rise to the occasion of being a terrible Die Hard movie; it’s perfectly content being shitty on everyone else’s terms. ■

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter.

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