A film review by Craig J. Koban February 19, 2013


2013, R, 98 mins.

John McClane: Bruce Willis / Jack: Jai Courtney / Komarov: Sebastian Koch / Collins: Cole Hauser / Irina: Yuliya Snigir

Directed by John Moore / Written by Skip Woods 

“Let’s go kill some motherfuckers!” 

So says New York cop and bad luck magnet John McClane to his son as they prepare to battle the Russian criminal underworld during the climax of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, which is now the fifth film in the series that dates all the way, way back to 1988’s DIE HARD.  The inherent strength of this newest entry in the iconic McClane’s-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time action franchise is that it fully embraces its hard-R rating, something that the sacrilegiously limp-wristed PG-13 LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD utterly failed to do.  This go around, when the besieged, bloodied, and bashed McClane utters his legendary “yippee ki-yay” catchphrase, the subsequent twelve-letter variation of everyone’s favorite f-bomb that punctuates it is not muffled by a gun blast.  That’s a moral victory right there. 

Alas, this is where the compliments abruptly...end.  

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is a mess, and not a so-bad-it’s-good kind of mess either.  Seeing an aging, approaching 60-years-old McClane – one of the cinema’s greatest action film heroes, right alongside James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Mad Max – mow his way through adversaries provides an initial, albeit fleeting rush of nostalgic adrenaline for fans of the series.  Yet, everything seems hopelessly adrift and monumentally off about McClane’s return to the silver screen after a six year absence.  Not only does Willis look visually bored and mannered reprising his most famous role, but also altogether gone is the trademark McClane-ian wit, sarcasm, and sense of emotional and physical vulnerability.  The character’s appeal in the first few films was derived from his wounded and grounded everyman status.  Now, McClane seems less human than he is super human, apparently achieving a sense of laughable invulnerability despite alarmingly closing in on geezer status. 



What’s worse is that – the horror! – poor ol' John finds himself delegated to being a fifth wheel side-character cast mindlessly placed in someone else’s storyline.  Inexplicably, he finds himself flying off to Russia to seek out his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney, so much more commanding of a screen presence in last year’s JACK REACHER), who has just recently been arrested for murder and is awaiting trial.  John smells something fishy, as he always does, and just before he can safely reach the courthouse it is bombarded by armed mercenaries funded by an ultra-corrupt high-ranking Russian politician (Sergei Kolesnikov), who wants a vital piece of decades-old Intel that his rival possesses, a government whistleblower named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch).  Komarov was in custody alongside Jack, who purposely has got himself close to Komarov because, in secret, he’s a CIA operative that has been working in Russia for years.  

Well, when papa John crosses paths with his escaping son (with Komarov in tow), it makes for one highly awkward family reunion.  After they manage to escape the merciless and kill-hungry assassins, father and son form an uneasy alliance to safely take Komarov to a secret location where he can gain access to those information discs that contain damaging evidence that everyone in the film seems to want.  This predictably leads to a series of stand-offs, chases, and fist, knife, and gun battles pitting McClanes versus a squadron of Russian heavies, during which we are forced to endure many a bad pun regarding John’s age, much hackneyed banter between him and Jack about all those years that they missed bonding, and a ludicrous climax that takes place – without given it away– at an infamous location where all of the…fallout of the plot comes to reveal itself. 

Looking back at the first DIE HARD recently, it’s remarkable how well the action was directed with low-key style, clarity, and intensity by John McTiernan.  A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is helmed by MAX PAYNE and BEHIND ENEMY LINES director John Moore, and his visual style here is arguably one of the most unpleasant qualities of this film.  Moore has said in an interview that he wanted to mimic McClane’s state of surprise and confusion from scene to scene, which he hoped to accomplish using largely handheld cameras.  Yet, he gives no sense of cleanliness, precision, or even rhythm to the film’s action sequences because of the obtrusive and migraine-inducing manner that he uses shaky-cam quick zooms and pans, hyperactive jump-cuts, and disorienting editing to suggest chaos and action.  An early sequence – featuring a vast vehicular chase through the streets of Moscow – is handled with such borderline incomprehensibility and bombastic stylistic overkill that just making geographical sense of the spatial relationships between the villains and heroes becomes impossible.  At times, I just wanted to close my eyes because I was getting fatigue trying to process it; this is the ugliest looking DIE HARD film to date.

Again, it also doesn’t help when the film takes a lovable wise-assed cowboy with a penchant for both injury and dishing out punishment and sanctimoniously transforms him into a one-dimensional robot that can survive hellish falls, explosions, gunfire, grenade and helicopter attacks…hell, even nuclear radiation…without missing a beat.  Even McClane’s trademark vulgar zingers – an uproarious staple of all previous DIE HARDS – fall with an elephantine and flavorless thud.  The script never really fleshes out his fractured relationship with his son beyond banal contrivances and clichés, not to mention that Courtney – as far as series sidekicks go – does not really have any tangible chemistry with Willis.  They never become compellingly drawn protagonists worthy of our rooting interests: they’re just rod-puppets at the service of the film’s assaultive mayhem. 

Sigh…even the villain is lacking big time here, as these types of auctioneers are only as good as their wickedly inhuman and self-serving baddies.  After being dealt up memorable turns by Alan Rickman, William Sadler, and Jeremy Irons in the series, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD’s idea of a worthy protagonist is to almost...not have one.  I complained about the antagonist of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, but at least he had an intriguingly high stakes end-game.  In this film, we are (a)  never given a truly clear picture as to who the villain really is and (b) when it’s revealed in a would-be late-breaking plot twist, it’s neither shocking nor surprising.  Having a genetically engineered clone of Hans Gruber emerge in the story would have been more ludicrously satisfying than what’s on parade here. 

I've been awfully hard on this film.  I admit it.  But there's a legacy here that's been on the silver screen in each of the last three decades that needs to be upheld, and A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD disturbingly ignores it altogether.  There have been some instances of aging franchises finding novel and refreshing ways to re-energize themselves (see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL), but A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD not only fails to re-capture what made the early DIE HARD films landmark efforts in the genre, but it also has no clue of how to even adhere to the basic ingredients of what made them so memorable.  This fifth entry is a simple-minded, crude, noisy, frenetic, and joyless paycheck cashing venture for all those involved.  Willis, to be fair, is still the man and hard to truly dislike here, but he’s playing a trivial and low-rent copy of a copy...of a copy of McClane in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  This McClane is an unkillable video game hero on an unending kill-streak.  Where’s the fun – or the excitement and suspense, for the matter – in that? 


CrAiGeR's other

 film reviews:

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD  (2007)  jj1/2


CrAiGeR's ranking of the DIE HARD Pentalogy:


1. DIE HARD (1988) jjjj

2. DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (1990)  jjj1/2


4. LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)  jj1/2

5. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)  j





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