Given how successful its four predecessors have been, it’s not surprising that “A Good Day to Die Hard” plays like an extended victory lap for star Bruce Willis and the entire “Die Hard” franchise. Not surprising, but not overwhelmingly entertaining either.
Starting with the original “Die Hard” in 1988, over the next quarter-century the series has grossed an estimated $1.2 billion worldwide, a hefty sum which apparently convinced 20th Century Fox to commission this fifth time in the trenches for Willis’ regular-guy action hero, New York City police Det. John McClane.
Befitting such a storied enterprise, director John Moore (“Max Payne”) has spared no expense or expertise in terms of action, including orchestrating a gargantuan car chase that took hundreds of vehicles 2½ months to complete and deploying (though not at the same time) an enormous 750-foot green screen and the 25-ton helicopter “Miss Belarus,” on loan from that nation and the largest the world has ever known.
Hardware is one thing but inspiration is something else, and in that area “A Good Day to Die Hard” comes up short. True, a lot of stuff gets blown up and stunts that must have cost the Earth appear with startling regularity, but the sense of exhilaration and fun that marked the best of the series has gone unaccountably AWOL.
Having apparently worn out all domestic opponents, McClane finds himself in Moscow on family business, searching for a son he had a falling out with years before, a son he is informed is now languishing in a Russian prison. Yes, the breakup was ugly, McClane admits grudgingly, but “he’s still my kid.”
Moscow, as it turns out, is hardly an oasis of calm. Russia’s president is pursuing a vendetta against former ally turned dissident Yuri Komarov, played by German actor Sebastian Koch (a rivalry that might have been inspired by Vladimir Putin’s clashes with wealthy Russian rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky.) Komarov, it seems, is in possession of (gasp!) an incriminating file that the president is desperate to get his hands on.
Trying to get close to Komarov on the day of his show trial is none other than McClane’s son Jack, who turns out to be no ordinary criminal but (gasp again!) a CIA agent who also wants to take possession of that scintillating file.
Due to circumstances too circuitous to relate, Jack and Komarov end up on the run together when, in the most unlikely coincidence imaginable, they literally bump into Jack’s dad on the streets of Moscow, where his congenital obtuseness helps derail Jack’s careful plan. “Five minutes,” he seethes to the old man, “to blow a three-year operation.”
Wanting to help his son out, bad blood notwithstanding, McClane takes part in that massive car chase, filmed both on Moscow’s Garden Ring and by a 190-person stunt unit that worked on the streets of Budapest. Auto enthusiasts will surely notice that key bad guy Alik (Rasha Bukvic) is driving a gargantuan, custom-made MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected), a vehicle that lets nothing stand in its way.
Far from impressed by his son’s status, McClane, whose parenting skills are rusty at best, dismissively calls Jack “the 007 of Plainfield, N.J.” The petty rivalry between these two is more irritant than enticement, even when McClane, who is troubled by being called John by his son, asks plaintively, “What happened to ‘Dad’?” and Jack snaps back, “Good question.”
Thrown together by contrived circumstances as they are, father and son combine forces and attempt to get Komarov out of the country. He won’t leave without his fetching daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) and then he has to stop at Chernobyl (not Grenoble, as the geographically challenged McClane hopes) to pick up that coveted file.
As written by Skip Woods, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is certainly twisty enough, but the pro-forma nature of Willis’ performance — even his traditional “yippee ki yay” sounds muted — doesn’t help a film that cannot be described as inspired.
Victory laps can be pleasant enough, but if no one’s heart is in them, what’s the point?
‘A Good Day to Die Hard’
MPAA rating: R, for violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: In general release