Bruce Willis and son blow up Russia in this slipshod and oh-so-tired franchise extension.
"Aw, we’re not going to Chernobyl, are we?" Oh, yes we are, John. And in more ways than one.
Yes, in the six full years since 2007’s dispiriting mediocrity Live Free Or Die Hard, the best the Tinseltown Brain Trust could come up with to further wiseacre flatfoot John McClane's ongoing quest to level the world’s most populated urban spaces was to, 'Send him to Russia – them guys is crazy!'
So it is that McClane (Bruce Willis) must travel to Moscow to track down his errant son Jack (Jai Courtney) who appears to have fallen in with the Russian mob. All, however, is not what it seems, and soon father and son are on the rampage through the three wall-to-wall set-pieces – car chase, gunfight, showdown – that comprise the remainder of what is very much the least and hopefully the last outing for the wayward Die Hard franchise.
It’s quite a strange viewing experience. If it were to emerge in forthcoming months that director John Moore’s first-unit footage had been destroyed in a chip-pan fire and the film had to be put together entirely from second-unit inserts, it would not be in the least bit surprising. There are no establishing shots and no introductions. There's no considered build-up or careful scene-setting.
Instead the story is told via huge, choppily edited close-ups and pick-up shots of wheels spinning and metal shearing. It’s like being told a joke in a foreign language – you do your best to follow the gist of it, but the intricacies have been lost in translation.
Not only that, but in an attempt to close the book on Bourne-style shaky-cam filming, Moore seems to have gone a step further and tied the camera to a length of rope and had his cinematographer swirl it around his head. Also, the fact that everything seems to have been filmed through a rain-smeared window, billowing exhaust fumes or flying debris makes for an exhausting, often impressionistic 97 minutes. The film sometimes recalls a half-remembered dream (of mass destruction).
It’s also the kind of film in which the heroes, needing some wheels and firepower to facilitate their Chernobyl smackdown with the Russian baddies (a high-kicking supermodel and a scheming dissident with a salt’n’pepper beard, naturally), steal a car that – somewhat serendipitously – contains not only enough automatic weapons, body armor and grenades to take down a herd of rhinos, but also a pair of binoculars that will later prove pivotal to the plot and a beautifully tailored leather jacket that fits McClane like a glove.
Willis – who you feel could be excised wholesale from the off-the-peg plot with just one nod from the producer – looks extremely uncomfortable. His quips are muffled, his garrulous demeanor feels forced and his chemistry with Courtney is undercut by the tired father-to-son horseshit the script feeds them both. After a shaky, shouty start, Courtney grows steadily into his role, and if the franchise is to pass over to him, it could be in worse hands.
If you have a penchant for the noisy, the messy and the overblown you might just wring enough from A Good Day To Die Hard to momentarily satisfy. If, on the other hand, you prefer your action films smart, sleek and memorable – as in the original Die Hard – this will feel like someone strapping you to a faulty fairground ride and throwing nuts and bolts in your face.
Difficult to work up too much enthusiasm for a franchise that is so obviously flailing around.
A good day to do something other than visit the cinema. Better than rearranging your sock drawer, less fun than doing a big shop.
Any remaining good faith in the franchise is now lost. Bruce's threatened sixth outing must surely be a bridge too far now.