a g o o d d a y t o d i e h a r d
14th February 2013
Bruce! and some others
16th February 2013
I'm a big Die Hard fan. It's been a long affair, stretching back to my first glimpse of John McClane settling down on the plane way back in 1988. A friend's parents had gone out for the day and we were watching our first 18 certificate film during half term. I'm not sure when Die Hard debuted on VHS but I'm guessing we were about twelve when we first witnessed Bruce leaping from a window secured only by a fire hose. From then on, Die Hard has managed a couple of other firsts for me, first bought VHS (in widescreen, always widescreen) and first DVD (to go in my new Playstation 2). It's easy to forget just how good the original film is. 40 Stories of Sheer Adventure! the tag line went and it wasn't kidding. On many levels, an old fashioned disaster movie that Irwin Allen would have been proud of, but with Bruce WIllis (known only, remember, for Moonlighting and Blind Date at this stage - not exactly McClane territory) bringing a down to earth everyman danger and depth to an otherwise routine heist movie. It made him deservedly a star and remains the high watermark for proper, grown up action movies. And all of that is without mentioning Alan Rickman's role of a lifetime, never bettered as a bad guy Hans Gruber.
I divert into this nostalgia to make a specific point about A Good Day to Die Hard (AGDtDH from now on). It's not a bad film as such. It's just an average film. And it's an average film that seems to have completely forgotten its roots. To be honest, we all know that the franchise has been heading this way for a while but through a combination of Bruce's endearing smirk, entertaining partners and breakneck pacing, the previous movies have managed to distract us from the fact that they've been heading down a very different path than the original.
So every new Die Hard release brings a mixed bag of emotions. Excitement at seeing Bruce back in that vest and resignation that it's probably going to be another reminder of how good the original was.. AGDtDH finds McClane.... well, it doesn't really bother to find him. All the previous sequels have at least spent some time establishing the utter car-wreck that McClane's life is. This film doesn't even bother with that. McClane is brought a file by some chap out of Prison Break and he's off to Russia to fetch his son. Fetch him? Even that's not made clear, he may just be going over to watch him get sent down. He briefly banters with the ever-lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who apparently is getting on better with dad since the events of the fourth film, and the next thing we know he's botched his son's CIA operation and is on the run with him.
It has moments of inspiration - McClane wiping out an entire squad of goons with a gigantic gun he finds on a table in a safe house for example or the fifteen minute long car chase but these are slim pickings. Even the car chase is undermined by scatter-gun dialogue that was clearly pasted in later (the action is so frenetic that's it's impossible to attach the words to a person or place). 'I'm on vactaion!' Bruce shouts at every opportunity. Not particularly amusing and presumably not entirely true unless your idea of a vacation is going to Russia to watch your son's trial. Not that I'm entirely clear what Jack was pinched for in the first place. Some CIA shit probably.
The real let-down is the chemistry between Willis and Courtney (as his son Jack). Never for a second do we believe that they're related or have any sort of relationship, even a bad one. The forced family drama adds nothing to the dynamic and seems to have been crow-barred in just to attach the story to the franchise. It's a big role for Courtney but establishing him as a seemingly veteran CIA agent (okay, he does have moments when his plan falls apart) means we have nobody to worry for. Clearly him and his father are going to be fine killing the bad guys and their chemistry is so absent that we really don't care one way or another about their father - son issues. This would be okay if the story and action zipped along as it did in 4.0, but it doesn't. It's loud and occasionally frenetic but it's never EXCITING. And that's probably the final problem. AGDtDH just isn't exciting. And if you abandon everything else from the original barring Bruce's smirk, you need to keep the excitement. Director Moore must take the hit here. His CV is almost the definition of average (remember much from Flight of the Phoenix, The Omen remake or Max Payne? Nope, me neither) and, well, at least he's keeping consistent with this attempt.
Bruce has apparently signed up for instalment number 6. It may be time to hang up McClane's shield once and for all. Before I'm forced to come up with a deluge of title puns.... A Horrible Way to Die Hard anyone? Anyone? Hello?