Saturday, February 16, 2013

“A Good Day to Die Hard” – And also to run head-first into walls.

When the best thing you can say about a movie is that the title is really stupid, you know you’re in for a turd of a movie. Especially when that movie is the fifth installment of a franchise that died years ago, but nobody wants to bury it. I remember having this same thought when the fourth one – and just as stupidly titled Live Free or Die Hard – came out in 2007, twelve years after Die Hard with a Vengeance. While Live Free or Die Hard was nowhere near as good as the first three, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it was going to be. At the very least, the script maintained a well-thought out bad-guy plot and the action escalated at a good pace, just like the movies before it. Not to mention that my wife and I love Timothy Olyphant. …But I’m not sure A Good Day to Die Hard even had a screenplay, let alone a well-thought out bad-guy plot, and the action threatens to make your head explode five minutes into the film.

If you’ve seen or heard the tag-line, you probably got a cramp from shaking your head in derision (or disbelief). If you haven’t seen it, it’s “Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia.” Really? Not only have the marketing fools bastardized one of the greatest catch phrases in action lore, but this movie is set in Russia? Is the writer (Skip Woods) purposely trying to pretend it’s still 1989 or does he really think the Cold War never ended? Either way, I’m betting that tagline was the bulk of the screenplay, surrounded by “ACTION! MORE ACTION! BODIES FLYING! CAR CHASES!”

Since we’re on the topic of screenplay, it would be really easy to believe that this one was written on the back of a cocktail napkin. I’m not kidding; based on the content of the film, it would fit with room to spare. Based on what I saw, it could not have been more than this:

John McClane’s son (Jack) gets arrested in Moscow – John flies to Moscow.
30-minute car chase (everyone improv’s lines)
McClanes escape with important Russian
Double-cross; McClanes captured
McClanes escape and kill a bunch of guys
Everyone goes to Chernobyl
“Yes, that Chernobyl”, says one McClane (doesn’t matter which one)
Another double-cross
McClanes kill everyone and scoff at radiation
The End

That would easily fit on a napkin, even a coaster with a little effort. However, effort is something Mr. Woods wasn’t interested in, and it showed in a nonsensical plot that was the opposite of coherent. There are political foes, CIA agents, an incriminating file, bad guys double-crossing each other, and weapons-grade uranium. None of this is given any time to breathe or develop, as most of the ninety-minute running time is devoted to carnage, so none of it makes any sense and least of all, what the hell John McClane is even doing there. He goes to Moscow after learning that Jack (Jai Courtney) has been arrested. But if Jack’s a CIA agent (he really is) working on a multi-year operation, why would the CIA let John get anywhere near Jack? Wouldn’t four movies worth of John thwarting terrorists be enough to ensure he would be kept an eye on?

But if the plot is nonsensical, the characters are flat out horrible and the dialogue they are given is worse. In fact, I’m not sure they were even given dialogue. John spends most of the movie yelling that he is on vacation – when he’s not punching people for speaking for Russian and stealing their cars (I’m not making this up) – or telling us how many more bad guys he’s going to kill. After the last two movies, are we sure he’s not a sociopath and actually worse than the bad guys he’s murdering? Of course, he’s trumped by the lead henchman, Alik, who also sounds like he’s just making up lines as he goes along. During one scene, he monologues like a cartoon villain, upping the cartoonishness by tap-dancing while eating a carrot. Yes, that actually happens.

By now, you might be thinking I’m being overly harsh about a movie that everyone expects to be nothing more than a series of gunshots, explosions, and one-liners. I promise you, I went into this movie expecting nothing more than that, but I did expect it to at least try to be a Die Hard movie, with some snarky humor and at least a little bit of smarts. That flew out the window at minute seventeen of the car chases scene, and it was pummeled to death when the bad guys were able to neutralize the radiation in the heart of Chernobyl with a little bit of Febreze. Maybe that’s good enough for people who don’t remember how good Die Hard was, but then those people have probably never met a wall they didn’t like.

Rating: Did I mention this movie’s release date was Valentine’s Day? Ask for all of your boyfriend/husband’s money back.

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