'A Good Day to Die Hard' Review: Franchise on Autopilot

'A Good Day to Die Hard' Review: Franchise on Autopilot

A Good Day to Die Hard keeps reminding us of the first time we met John McClane.

Our hero spends what feels like half the movie breaking through panes of glass, creating shards like the ones he once walked over during the original Die Hard. We hear John’s wiseacre attitude and remember how he used it to drive Alan Rickman’s villain to distraction, and then some.

And, of course, our favorite New York cop barks his catch phrase, the one you shouldn’t repeat in polite company.

The fifth franchise installment still bears little resemblance to Bruce Willis’ star-making ’80s film.

A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t technically turn John McClane into a superhero, but just the way the character turns his head reluctantly toward danger time and again suggests the flutter of a brightly colored cape is just outside the shot.

We rejoin John as he learns his son Jack has been arrested in Russia. The details are fuzzy, but John knows his boy is in trouble. Dad jumps on the first flight to Moscow to help out in any way he can. Jack’s predicament involves a shady Russian politician, a prisoner hoping to come clean and a beautiful brunette whose purpose in the film changes roughly every 15 minutes.

A Good Day’s story starts out smoothly enough, but the subsequent wrinkles do little to add tension or intrigue. Instead, the plot twists sap the film’s already meandering momentum, leaving us to watch John and Jack bicker about old family issues. Seems John wasn’t around much during Jack’s formative years, and the lad holds a Nakatomi Plaza-sized grudge about it.

Director John Moore (The Omen remake) stages some impressive action sequences, although the film’s first fiery blast goes on far too long. And Willis, who doesn’t appear fully engaged in his own franchise at this point, remains both rumpled and rugged in his 50s. Too bad for every smart quip he delivers he’s forced to spit out a half dozen clunkers, like when he keeps telling us he’s supposed to be on vacation while dodging gunfire.

The joke didn’t work the first time. Don’t ask about the fourth.

The film’s biggest mistake is failing to give us a suitably smarmy villain. Willis’s most famous character exists to get under the skin of his enemy, to use both his brawn and wit to save the day. Not here.

Should the series go on? Why not? Willis isn’t in high demand as an actor any more, and he’s physically fit enough to keep dishing out punishment in perpetuity. A Good Day to Die Hard, removed from franchise expectations, is a generic action film with a charismatic lead and enough well-crafted explosions to earn your escapist dollars.

What the Die Hard series needs now is someone who has the artistic vision to recapture what it means to say “Yippe-ki-yay, motherfucker” … and really believe it.