(by Dustin Putman
More like "A Good Day to End This Series." The fifth film in the long-running franchise that turned Bruce Willis from romantic television lead on "Moonlighting" into an overnight action star, "A Good Day to Die Hard" is very, very easily the weakest entry, reminding more of a mid-'90s direct-to-video clunker rather than a big-screen continuation worthy of Willis'—or John McClane's—time and effort. Not interesting enough to care at all about following the nonsense plot and a dizzying step down from the elaborate, tightly edited set-pieces that heavily populated 2007's legitimately engrossing "Live Free or Die Hard," this 97-minute piffle may run a full half-hour shorter than its predecessors, but it is so dull and lacking in creativity and tension that it feels like the longest one. As it turns out, there is a very good reason why "A Good Day to Die Hard" is the first in the series that 20th Century Fox has deemed not worthy of competing in the thick of the summer movie season. Article continues below
When word comes that his semi-estranged grown son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested in Moscow for murder, NYC cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads for Russia in the hopes of somehow helping him out. No sooner has he arrived when the courthouse where Jack is awaiting sentencing is struck by a terrorist bombing. Jack escapes along with political prisoner Komarov (Sebastian Koch), and, after an eternity of bickering, John joins forces with them. As it turns out, Jack is a CIA operative with the mission of bringing Komarov to safety—a tall order as Russian goons seek to kill him and pull off a nuclear weapons heist.
John Moore (2008's "Max Payne") is all wrong as director of "A Good Day to Die Hard," his reigning idea of actualizing an action sequence being to shoot chaos and destruction with little mind to if it coherently cuts together or not. Thus, would-be standout moments, including a knowingly ridiculous car chase (McClane drives his jeep over cars, tow trucks and big rigs without missing a beat) and too many grimy warehouse shoot-outs for comfort, are rendered monotonous, slapdash and bereft of ingenuity. Screenwriter Skip Woods (2010's "The A-Team") is equally at fault, falling back on standard-issue interpersonal conflicts—son Jack is miffed at John and doesn't want to have anything to do with him, a total carbon-copy of John's relationship with daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, briefly returning) in "Live Free or Die Hard"—and a decrepit storyline that brings nothing original to the table. If the villains in the "Die Hard" pictures can usually be relied upon to be memorable—Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber, anyone?—here the bad guys might as well be nameless and faceless they're such afterthoughts.
It has been twenty-five years since the inaugural "Die Hard," and in that time Bruce Willis (2012's "Looper") has lost hair and the creases around his eyes have deepened. What hasn't been taken away is his believability as an everyman who can still kick butt and evade imminent death with the best of them. Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, who proved with "The Last Stand" that his glory days as an action hero may be over, Willis at 57 appears to still have several good years ahead of him if he plays his cards right. By now he could play John McClane in his sleep, but it's a part the actor does well. As smarmy son Jack, Jai Courtney (2012's "Jack Reacher") plays the role as an entitled, one-note hothead who is downright spiteful to his old man—"Shut up, John, or I swear I'll put a bullet in you," he says early on without a hint of his tongue being in cheek—before making an about-face in the home stretch. "It's fun running around with you," John warmly tells him later on, the two of them finally having made amends. If Willis is a likable smart-ass, Courtney is an insufferable one who won't seem to disappear.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" climaxes in Chernobyl, a good 430 miles away from Moscow (and, it should be said, located not in Russia, but the Ukraine) despite John and Jack traveling there by car within a single scene transition. This desolate setting might have made for a portentous, atmospheric mood-setter, but is shot so indistinctly that it only serves to make a person long for 2012's underappreciated "Chernobyl Diaries." Running out of ideas long before this point, director John Moore and writer Skip Woods turn to pyrotechnics and nothing but—that is, until a treacly ending where John waxes philosophic about the joys of fatherhood and the nobility of the McClane name. It's even more painful than it sounds. There has already been talk that a sixth "Die Hard" might be bubbling on the horizon. If there is one positive thing to be said about this, it is the knowledge that all involved will get the chance to right all of the egregious wrongs of "A Good Day to Die Hard." It's mindless, all right, but no fun at all.