It is the way of franchises. They begin with breathless delight and end with a wheezing sigh. And so it is with the Die Hard series. Bruce Willis, whose name was not above the title in the first installment, was a quipping wonder as police detective John McClane, a man out to save his marriage by saving his wife from the madman (Alan Rickman in his screen debut) holding her hostage. Grim determination and a gift for just the right bon mot in any situation was coupled with a fast-paced action script and a cinematic powerhouse was born. No one took it seriously, instead they sat back, munched their popcorn, and had a very good time at the movies.
Little of that has survived in the fifth installment, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Its a tired exercise in straining credulity without compensating for its far-fetched plot with scathingly jaw-dropping action and wickedly funny banter. Yet, its still a family matter. In this case, finding McClane voyaging to Russia in order to find out why his son, Jack (muscle-bound and bodacious Jai Courtney), hasnt been in touch with him for the last few years. That Jack is currently under arrest in Russia provides the perfect opportunity to keep the boy from walking away when daddy tries to start a dialogue with him. Of course its more complicated than that, with the CIA, Russian politics, and Slavic hoodlums all being involved, but the that doesnt stop father and son from working out their issues while reducing Russia to rubble.
There is a loopy and loop-the-loop story at work here that serves the purpose of allowing things to blow up, crash into each other, or otherwise become deconstructed. If there is a pretty chandelier, it is only there to become a pile of pretty shards. If there is a plate-glass window, its only purpose is to be torpedoed by Willis flying form. If there is a door, chances are John and Jack will opt instead to exit by falling several stories, the which is merely the set-up for a punch line.
Jack spends his time fretting about getting a file on which hangs the fate of the world. John spends his time being cool under pressure and one-upping the son he is trying to de-estrange. None of it works particularly well, even with a father-daughter team on the lam with them to be a mirror image of sorts. Its not that Willis has lost his smart aleck magic. On the contrary, hes the saving grace of the flick, along with those nifty explosions and firefights. When he picks up an automatic weapon, there is an easy authority along with the smirk. When he goes side-stepping a hail of bullets, theres a devil-may-care attitude that reassures the audience that this is supposed to be fun. His action credentials never came from being a superman, but instead by being an everyman with a compelling motive. Age has done nothing to diminish that. Alas, hes in a film that doesnt know how to connect the dots, and finds few dots worth looking for. The usual sublimely eccentric and evil villain is absent, with stock characters spouting clichés in Slavic accents. Whats worse, the audience is all but taunted with a dancing fool of a flunky (Radivoje Bukvic) mourning his showbiz dream. Instead of making him the focus of the McLane rampage, he is a minor character who livens up the screen when he appears, and leaves a hole in the proceedings when he continuously disappears.
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD doesnt stint on mayhem and havoc, though even a spectacular helicopter stand-off has a curious world-weariness about it that undercuts any sense of suspense. McClane will, of course, find a way against impossible odds, and have a wisecrack or two when he does. The formula is intact, but the question that can only be answered with a resounding NO is was it worth the effort to revive it?