Film review: A Good Day to Die Hard

“Do you go looking for trouble, or does it always find you?” John McClane’s son Jack asks him in the fifth film of the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard.  “I still ask myself the same question,” the elder McClane answers with a laugh.  In this case, though, Bruce Willis and company had to go looking mighty hard to find trouble, and it shows.

Briefly, we catch up to McClane a few years after his heroics in the surprisingly good Live Free or Die Hard, having resolved his relationship with his daughter Lucy (a return cameo by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but his son Jack (Jai Courtney, Spartacus:War of the Damned) is a different matter.  Jack has been arrested in Moscow, and John goes to see how he can help what he thinks is a chronic screw-up son.  What he doesn’t know is that Jack works for the government and is on a mission — a mission that John inadvertently disrupts — and the fates of Russia and the US are on the line.  It gets difficult to tell between the good guys and the bad guys, but will the two McClanes be the Johnnies-on-the-spot?

This isn’t a bad popcorn movie for those who just want to see gunfights, tracer rounds, explosions, and John McClane killing scumbags.  In fact, that’s what McClane tells his son that McClanes do, in one scene that depicts the two bonding.  At the popcorn-movie level, the film works passably well, probably more so in the first half than the second.

However, the previous Die Hard films at least had some sense of detective work to them, something that made John McClane a little bit better than other investigators, and more than just a killing machine.   They were smart, taut films that limited plot holes — like, say, the scene in which the two McClanes are shown driving from Moscow to Chernobyl in a hurry to stop the aforementioned scumbags who traveled there by helicopter, which would be a 12-hour trip by car (971 km) and one that crosses an international border.

The other Die Hard films had another unique quality: familiarity.  In those films, McClane just happened to be the guy around when the familiar turned into a nightmare.  A Christmas party gets interrupted by a heist; a Christmas trip gets interrupted by an airport takeover; and in the previous film, everyday life collapses when hackers seize control of practically every institution on which we rely. John McClane wasn’t a superhero who just ran around killing bad guys simply because that’s just what he does. This time, McClane goes out to Russia looking for trouble, seems to have no problem finding his son literally within minutes of his arrival, and overcomes language and knowledge gaps to get a grasp of the situation in a literally unbelievable time frame.  The audience has no connection to the events or the environment, as we did in the other Die Hard films, a disconnect that gets amplified by the now de rigueur shaky-camera and blue-washed cinematography of action films today.

A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not nearly as good as its franchise predecessors.  The good news is that McClane only has one more family relationship left to resolve, and Bonnie Bedelia seems uninterested in reprising her role as Holly Gennaro McClane, so this is probably the end of the line for Die Hard. (In Japan, it’s called Die Hard: Last Day, which might be a good idea.)  Bruce Willis is fun if not quite as charming as in the earlier entries, and this time of year you’re not likely to find an action film all that much better.  If you go into the theater with your expectations properly set and tell your brain to take a break, you can have some fun with it.

A Good Day to Die Hard is rated R — for many good reasons. It’s not for children, young teens, or anyone squeamish about screen violence.