We first meet little Lucy and Jack McClane in John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” all the way back in 1988. It’s now 25 years and four movies later, and though we met grown up Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a few years back in “Live Free of Die Hard,” there’s been nary a peep from adult Jack. Well all that just changed with “A Good Day to Die Hard,” or “Son of Die Hard” as I’ve been calling it in my head since we first learned about the main plot point.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is easily the year’s most absurd action movie. Fans of insane chases and out of control shootouts, not to mention little to now downtime, will find a lot to glom on to here. Fans of the original “Die Hard,” not so much. “Good Day” is so completely empty, so devoid of any story, character, or acting ability, that the few moments when the frantic pace slows down enough to let the characters talk, are painful.
Fortunately these breaks few and far between, and there’s always a big gun for franchise hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) to grab, and a bad guy with a faux hawk and eyebrow ring to blow away. Seriously, the first fourth of the movie is primarily a chase scene. And not just a normal chase scene, we’re talking the most ridiculous cinematic pursuit since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence drove a Hummer through that hillside slum in Cuba in “Bad Boys II.” At one point McClane flips a truck, gets hit by an SUV, steals the SUV (after knocking the driver out cold in the most American movie moment in at least a decade), runs the SUV off of an overpass, and drives along the top of rush hour traffic like he’s in a monster truck.
John McClane used to be a disgruntled everyman, an average Joe always in the wrong place at the wrong time, compelled into action by the press of extreme circumstances. Somewhere along the line, however, he turned into an immortal, unkillable uberhuman. He walks away from horrific crashes, falling down the sides of buildings, shootouts with helicopters, and any number of ridiculous eruptions of sudden violence that no human being would ever survive, without so much as a scratch. It’s like he’s bulletproof.
It turns out that young Jack is has grown up to be a CIA spook with daddy issues. McClane mockingly calls him “the 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey,” and appears to be rather disappointed that his boy became a spy. Jack’s working a case in Russia—I get nostalgic for my childhood whenever the former Soviets are bad guys anymore, I miss when they were the go-to villains. There’s a political prisoner, a vague “file” that every side wants to get their grubby little mitts on, and Jack goes undercover as a prisoner to further the cause. Unfortunately for Jack, the bad guys, and most of Moscow’s afternoon commuters, John McClane thinks his boy is really in the slammer, and heads to Russia to…well, you’re never really sure what he intended to do.
What he actually does is get in the way, blow the op, get some people killed, kill some himself, and generally cause one hell of a ruckus. Shot in shaky, cinema verite style, director John Moore (why did they give the guy who made “Max Payne” another job?) is trying his damndest to make “A Good Day to Die Hard” look like a “Bourne” movie.
There’s a generic villain (Radivoje Bukvic) who literally dances around (he laments that he should have been a dancer, but killing people pays so much better), and eats a carrot while interrogating the McClane boys. Every second Willis is on screen he spews smartass comments about how he’s on vacation, or calling his kid a pussy. Honestly, there are so many moments in where you want to yell “what the fuck” at the screen that eventually all you can do is let out a confused whimper and limply go with it. By the time they steal a car full of guns and go to Chernobyl, you’re like, why wouldn’t they do that?
Even now I still can’t decide whether or not “A Good Day to Die Hard” is the best or worst movie I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t feel like a “Die Hard” movie, though neither did “Live Free,” but I didn’t stop clapping my hands and giggling like an idiot the whole time. Neither does Bruce Willis. You feel like what you’re watching is a terrible joke, but at least it feels like he’s in on it.