Friday, February 15, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard: A bad way to spend an evening

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rating: R, for profanity and relentless violence
By Derrick Bang

The results of the 2013 Geezer Action Flick trifecta are in, and the winner remains the first contestant out of the gate: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who displayed the good sense to insist upon solid supporting characters and a reasonably logical script in The Last Stand, while poking good-natured fun at his own advanced age.

Let's go do what we do best, John McClane (Bruce Willis, left) cheerfully advises long-
estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney). What they do best always involves lots of running,
jumping and gunplay, which rarely musses their hair. Ah, the life of a movie star in a
laughably stupid action flick...
Sylvester Stallone remains dead last, his laughably stiff granite features unable to breathe any life into Bullet to the Head, a tawdry, nasty excuse for tasteless, tawdry brutality.

Which brings us to Bruce Willis, only marginally better than Stallone, due to an impressively stupid script that eschews any semblance of plot logic, while wreaking havoc with the natural laws of physics and numerous other well-known areas of science.

Hollywood has made an art of brain-dead displays of mayhem, but A Good Day to Die Hard may be in a class all its own. I can’t recall ever seeing so much personal property destroyed during the course of a 97-minute movie, and I’m certain this display of wretched excess sets a new record for smashed, crushed and otherwise mangled moving vehicles.

Mind you, the human bodies involved in all this carnage should be reduced to pulped hamburger dozens of times over, and yet everybody — good guys and bad — somehow survives multi-story falls, endless hails of bullets, hard landings within construction sites, shard-laden plunges through plate-glass windows, and accelerated spins into the air during highway pile-ups involving multiple vehicles (no air bags in sight) ... with no more than a few scratches and minor contusions.

Really, Willis should just acknowledge the obvious and don the blue uniform and red cape. At least that would explain his character’s apparent invulnerability.

Have you noticed, over time, how the military-grade weapons used in movies of this nature have gotten larger, faster and deadlier ... and all concerned still can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Not even armor-piercing sniper rifles can draw a bead on Willis’ immortal John McClane, and if that isn’t silly enough, he’s also able to avoid batteries from Russian Mi:24 and Mi:26 attack helicopters, as if engaged in nothing more troublesome than a spirited round of dodgeball.

It reaches a point — rapidly, in this flick — when all the on-screen carnage just becomes silly and tiresome. Even for a live-action cartoon, Skip Woods’ mess of a script goes way beyond dumb.

When one despicable fellow confronts our hero while smiling and chomping on a carrot — an affectation apparently intended to display the villain’s bad-ass nature — I honestly expected him to say “What’s up, John?”

Heck, that would have drawn a more generous laugh than any of the clumsy lines that pass for humor in this mess.

The plot, such as it is:

McClane, suffering an unexpected bout of parental angst, learns that his long-estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been arrested in Moscow. Assuming the worst, recalling Jack’s younger days as a juvenile delinquent, John boards a plane after accepting a ride to the airport from worried daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in a fleeting and truly pointless cameo, reminding us of her presence in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard).

Ah, but John doesn’t know that his son, far from being a criminal, actually is a CIA operative under deep, deep cover. Jack has orchestrated his arrest specifically to be imprisoned alongside Russian criminal-turned-whistleblower Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who intends to expose and thwart the political ambitions of former partner Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) during a public courtroom trial.

Chagarin isn’t about to let this happen, so Jack positions himself next to Komarov, in order to protect the man when the inevitable assassination attempt goes down. This turns into an explosive affair, with the courtroom leveled to rubble by massive bombs, and then invaded by a paramilitary assault team.

And, wouldn’t you know it, John McClane’s taxi drops him off in front of the Moscow courthouse, just as all this goes down. Every travel agent in the audience will marvel at such split-second timing.

Somehow, impossibly, Jack and Komarov manage to flee the building, just in time for the inevitable meet-cute father/son reunion. It doesn’t go well, and the bewildered John barely has time to register astonishment — his wayward son, a New Jersey 007? — before being thrust into a hell-for-leather car chase.

Credit where due: It’s one helluva sequence, and it just keeps getting more audacious. Jack and Komarov take off in a fragile Sprinter van, trying to evade the bad guys directly behind, led by Chagarin’s henchman Alik (Radivoe Bukvic, the carrot-chomper), who pilots a custom-made MRAP (mine-resistant, ambush-protected) military vehicle that can flatten anything in its path. John brings up the rear, first in a Unimog and then — his first ride meeting an untimely demise — in a G Wagon.

Director John Moore (responsible for the ill-advised remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix, among other forgettable flicks) and stunt coordinator Steve Davison stage this vehicular free-for-all, at least in part, on location within Moscow’s traffic-congested Garden Ring; the authentic setting adds some international flavor to the overall chaos.

The trouble, however, is that this is an impressive sequence ... but it comes early, in the first act. That means Moore will spend the rest of the film trying to top himself, ergo the subsequently bigger, noisier and dumber displays of carnage. We just know, for example, that when John, Jack and Komarov walk into a luxurious ballroom laden with gorgeous chandeliers and huge windows, that everything soon will be blown into bits of flying glass.

Subsequent plot developments eventually lead to Chernobyl — actually a spooky former Soviet military base in the village of Kiskunlachaza, abandoned following the collapse of the USSR — where Komarov has hidden the all-important file that will expose Chagarin’s dirty deeds. By this point, several key characters have indulged in various double-crosses, solely to advance an increasingly preposterous storyline.

Since we couldn’t have a star of Willis’ stature attempting to be heroic from within the face-concealing confines of a haz-mat suit, you’ll be impressed to learn that the Chernobyl facility’s dangerous radiation levels are dispelled by — I’m not making this up — the wave of a magic, misting wand. That way, everybody can shoot at each other in their street clothes.

Honestly, I haven’t seen natural laws violated so blatantly since Mariel Hemingway survived being flown into deep space, without any sort of protective suit, back in 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Just how dumb and ill-informed do Moore and Woods think we are?

Willis sashays through every scene with signature smirk intact, as if delighted by the fact that he’s making so much money on such a dim-bulb production. Woods tries for a bit of father/son angst when John pouts over Jack’s refusal to call him Dad, but neither Willis nor Courtney can be bothered to inject any credible emotion into such exchanges.

Rising Russian actress — and ranked chess master (!) — Yuliya Snigir supplies some eye candy as Irina, the daughter Komarov hopes to take out of Russia, in exchange for cooperating with the CIA. Longtime B-movie stalwart Cole Hauser briefly pops up as Agent Collins, who manages the CIA safe house where John first tries to conceal Komarov. (I say “briefly” because no minor character survives long in this mess.)

Composer Marco Beltrami supplies a bombastic, shrieking score quite appropriate for all this absurdly choreographed mayhem, and editor Dan Zimmerman certainly is kept busy, integrating the multiple camera angles involved in each increasingly frantic melee.

At the end of the day, though, the result is more exhausting than entertaining. While this fifth Die Hard entry isn’t as distasteful or sadistic as Bullet to the Head, it’s even more hilariously illogical.

Which begs the obvious question: Do filmmakers of Moore’s questionable talent really have so little respect for the intelligence of their audience?

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