If it’s true that Bruce Willis intends to make a sixth Die Hard, he, the studio and his fellow producers would be well advised to take a cue from the revitalized Bond series and realize that, even for a series with automatic brand appeal, choice of director and screenwriter matter. Quite a lot, as it turns out, after viewing the current embarrassment to the franchise.
This time, NYC cop and trouble magnet John McClane (Willis) flies to Russia to help his son, Jack, who was arrested in a nightclub shooting. What McClane doesn’t know is that Jack (Jai Courtney) is a CIA agent who intentionally got himself pinched in order to protect political prisoner Yuri Komarov. It appears that Komarov has the goods on a high-ranking politico he used to be buddies with when they were smuggling weapons-grade uranium and — in a tasteless twist on history — caused the Chernobyl meltdown.
When the McClanes reunite, our worst fears on how their relationship will be depicted are realized. It turns out they have Hollywood-standard daddy/son issues. Jack resents his dad for never being there, while John takes a few moments amidst a hail of bullets to reflect on being an absentee father. In an especially unbelievable moment, Jack pulls a gun on his dad and blames him for screwing up his mission. A mission that, at the moment McClane showed up, he himself was improvising.
Director John Moore (Max Payne, Behind Enemy Lines) puts together a couple of decent action sequences and visuals, but his aesthetic is mostly a liability to your enjoyment. An extended car chase in Moscow is more confusing than thrilling: Moore films the scene with a shaky camera and pointless fast zooms that are his way of announcing SOMETHING IMPORTANT IS HAPPENING while obscuring what that something is. He also has McClane act completely out of character when he drives a truck on top of cars in traffic, endangering the motorists. Despite the wisecracks, this isn’t the same McClane we’ve gotten to know over the course of four films as a resourceful guy who will risk his own life – not the lives of others – to save people.
The script by grade-Z hack Skip Woods (Swordfish, The A-Team) is worse. The fourth Die Hard set a series low for macho posing and dialogue. This one is even more offensive in its disregard for the audience’s intelligence. When the McClanes head to a safe house that has a camera mounted prominently above its doorframe, you have to wonder how safe it can be. After the duo reach Chernobyl, they walk without protection into an area that should be teeming with radioactivity. (They can’t possibly have known it had been decontaminated only minutes prior.) The movie’s idea of making McClane vulnerable is having Willis grunt and groan whenever he’s tossed to the concrete (which is quite a lot).
Each Die Hard has pitted McClane against a worthy adversary. The closest we get to an alpha bad guy is a carrot-chomping Russian who does a little soft shoe to amuse himself and his henchmen. When the real villain is revealed, the effect is muted because it comes so late in the film. A Good Day to Die Hard breezes in and out in 97 minutes, efficient but seldom entertaining — at least not by the standards the series has set. In the previous Die Hard films, the main draws have been Willis and his seemingly boundless charisma, a few memorably quirky characters, a witty script and some pulse-racing action scenes. By that measure, this one rates quite low.
A sixth Die Hard? John McTiernan can’t get out of jail fast enough.