Before I saw “A Good Day to Die Hard,” I remembered “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” as my least favorite film in the Bruce Willis franchise. Now, “Max Payne” director John Moore’s “A Good Day to Die Hard” (** OUT OF ****) has acquired that dubious distinction. This fast-paced, but formulaic, 98-minute actioneer should have taken the straight to video route. Nobody would have missed it. I’ve seen better Bruce Willis epics go the straight to video route. Although it boasts some sensational, larger-than-life stunts, the fourth “Die Hard” sequel is a Spartan saga with little to distinguish from its straight to video competition. The film generates little charisma and lacks a strong villain like previous “Die Hards.” Indeed, it appears that 20th Century Fox has inserted the Bruce Willis/John McClane hero into a raw-edged, generic thriller with a tense father and son relationship. Unlike the first two “Die Hard” movies, the action doesn’t occur at Christmas, and McClane isn’t confined to one setting as he was in the first two “Die Hards.” “A Good Day to Die Hard” is more like “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “Live Free or Die Hard” since the hero remains at large.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” takes place almost entirely in Moscow. The Russian villains are former political allies who want to kill each other. Chaganin (Sergey Kolesnikov of “Cold Souls”) is a clean-shaven, high-ranking politician with influence galore. The other is a wealthy bearded dissident, Komarov (Sebastian Koch of “Unknown”), who bides his time in jail playing chess. Ultimately, one of these villains wants what the villains in “The Expendables 2” wanted: weapons grade uranium. As Detective Lieutenant John McClane, Bruce Willis returns in fine form to thwart the evil villains. Sadly, scenarist Skip Woods doesn’t give him any clever wisecracks. Consequently, for lack of anything better to utter, Bruce says, “I’m on vacation,” at intervals. Ironically, he isn’t on vacation. He does utter his personal motto once when he pulls his biggest stunt. He performs feats of derring-do to assist his estranged son. Basically, Bruce is the whole show. The only other actor you may recognize is Cole Hauser. He plays the expendable CIA partner who gets caught in the cross-fire. Everybody else is largely unknown. Jai Courtney resembles Sam Worthington of “Avatar” fame, but he radiates little charm.
Our indestructible hero, Detective John McClane, is shooting targets on the NYPD firing range when he learns that his son Junior (Jai Courtney of “Jack Reacher”) has been imprisoned in Russia. What the elder McClane doesn’t learn until later is John McClane, Jr., works as a spook for the Central Intelligence Agency. Naturally, McClane flies off for Moscow after an obligatory moment with his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of “Live Free or Die Hard”), with whom he remains on good terms. The last time we saw Lucy, she was struggling with the villains in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Aside from Winstead reprising her role, there is little here to associate with the franchise. When our heroes get a quiet moment to reminisce, they mumble forgettable dialogue. They are better off blasting away at the opposition or dodging both bullets and explosions. McClane still has a thing or two that he can teach his son, but their relationship doesn’t advance very far. They lack camaraderie, and Junior is one of those sons who could die and not be missed.
Everybody is after the elusive Komarov who claims to have an incriminating file on the wicked Chaganin. You see, Chaganin is campaigning for the position of Defense Minister. Komarov had a deal with the CIA, specifically Agent John McClane, Jr., before everything went chaotic. Chaganin will do anything to dispose of Komarov, and he dispatches a gang of gunsels led by Alik (Rasha Bukvic of “Taken”) who hates Americans. The younger McClane shoots his way into prison and then during a raid on the courthouse, Komarov and he get together. John confronts them, and Junior puts a pistol in his face. No, he isn’t happy to see his father. Meantime, Alik and company are breathing down Junior’s neck. A demolition-derby automotive chase ensues with some spectacularly orchestrated car crashes. Junior and Komarov are desperately struggling to elude Alik, while John tags along close behind trying to run interference when he has the chance. As it turns out, Komarov hasn’t been entirely honest with Junior about the mysterious file he has on Chaganin. Eventually, we learn that Komarov has a daughter with her own pistol and an attitude. The Komarovs betray our heroes and grab a helicopter. They are bound for the sinister ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant when Komarov has stashed the file.
Sadly, the villains in “A Good Day to Die Hard” aren’t memorable. Nobody here is both as deadly and debonair as Alan Rickman was in the original “Die Hard” or Jeremy Irons in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” After father and son reconcile themselves somewhat, the best they can do is dodge more bullets and hope for the best. At one point, after surviving several close scrapes, McClane scrambles aboard the villains helicopter and commandeers a vehicle stashed inside the chopper. The villains are about to riddle yet another office building with machine gun fire where Junior is hiding. Our stalwart hero cranks up the vehicle inside and drives it out of the cargo bay. This action tilts the helicopter backwards at a precipitous angle so its machine guns miss their intended target. This destruction of the helicopter qualifies as the best of the fireball explosions in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
“Swordfish” scenarist Skip Woods doesn’t give us a lot to get attached to in this installment. The surprises aren’t very surprising, and the filmmakers struggle to do anything that hasn’t been done before, like blowing up the above-mentioned helicopter. No matter when you see it, “A Good Day to Die Hard” has nothing good about it.0