Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Theaters: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

(US/UK - 2013)

Directed by John Moore.  Written by Skip Woods.  Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Rasha Bukvic, Cole Hauser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yulia Snigir, Amaury Nolasco, Sergey Kolesnikov. (R, 97 mins)

At one point in A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, the latest and by far the least of the 25-year-old action franchise, someone asks the villain "So this is about money?" to which Bruce Willis' John McClane interrupts "It's always about the money."

That pretty much sums up Willis' level of commitment to this dreary and uninspired time-waster that feels the need to justify itself by mentioning in the closing credits just how many people the project employed and how many hours they put in.  Indeed, this wasn't a scripted film with characters in a narrative.  It was put together in a strictly mechanical, assembly-line fashion with the actors being the least relevant part of the equation.  There's nothing wrong with crafting a formulaic action picture with the intention of making money, but it helps if anyone involved can at least pretend that they give a shit.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD finds a sleepwalking Willis coasting through as McClane, heading to Moscow upon hearing news that his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney, whose bland presence here seems to indicate that Hollywood has given up trying to make Sam Worthington happen) has been imprisoned on drug charges.  McClane arrives in Moscow and immediately stumbles into a complex plot to get jailed scientist Komarov (Sebastian Koch of THE LIVES OF OTHERS) out of the country--an operation overseen by Jack, who's really a covert CIA agent.  Komarov has access to a file that implicates him and big-shot politician Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov) as the parties responsible for the Chernobyl disaster.  Komarov has owned up to it and wants Chagarin to pay, while Chagarin needs Komarov to disappear in order to attain his ambitious political goals.  Jack seems to be pulling off this mission with just one other CIA guy (Cole Hauser), who gets shot in the head almost immediately, putting Komarov in the hands of the bickering McClanes, who spend as much time working out their family issues as they do blowing away cartoonish Russian bad guys, led by Chagarin's top henchman Alik (Rasha Bukvic), whose tap-dancing and carrot-munching are highly ineffective quirks for a villain to demonstrate.  This all ends with a showdown at the abandoned Chernobyl facility (after the McClanes are lucky enough to steal a car with a trunk filled with automatic weapons), where the radiation can be neutralized by spraying a fine mist (apparently Febreze's new "Deus Ex Machina" scent), which is screenwriter Skip Woods' (SWORDFISH, THE A-TEAM) way of explaining how McClane Sr. and Jr. can waltz around quipping one-liners to their hearts' content with no protective gear or regard for their safety.  Last year's CHERNOBYL DIARIES was more plausible.

But that's the least of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD's idiocies.  If you thought 2007's ill-advised LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was inane, then wait until you see this. The John McClane of this film bears almost no resemblance to the McClane in the comparitively realistic DIE HARD (1988), a film that had heart, smart writing, and richly-drawn characters amid the action and spectacle.  That's why it's considered a classic decades later and why no one will remember A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD two weekends from now, no matter how much money it pulls in at the box office (and in one weekend, it's already grossed more than Schwarzenegger's THE LAST STAND and Stallone's BULLET TO THE HEAD combined, both of which are infinitely better films).  Five minutes after getting off the plane, McClane is commandeering a truck through the streets of Moscow and dodging a rocket that's launched at him.  He and Jack are not only immune to radiation poisoning, but they're involved in flipover accidents, hurl themselves through plate glass windows, fall through floor after floor of exterior scaffolding, and McClane dangles from a truck that's dangling from a chopper, often emerging from these incidents with little more than some scratches and always with the same "I'm on vacation!" wisecrack (Vacation?  Weren't you there to get your kid out of jail?). These action scenes are completely CGI'd and look about as convincing as one of those action/explosion FX iPhone apps.  I mean, seriously.  Look at this:

Actual shot from the film

Several people in the audience applauded at the conclusion of an utterly incoherent car chase.  Some of them emitted audible "Whoa!"s during shots like the one above.  What is wrong with these people?  Do they really think this a stunt being performed by Bruce Willis or an actual human being?  Is there anything in the above shot that's real?  What are they "Whoa!"-ing about?  It's like saying "Whoa!" when Wile E. Coyote plummets into a canyon.  This is what passes for a thrilling, aesthetically-pleasing action sequence these days?  I must confess that I wasn't completely disliking this movie in the early stages, but the sillier and more PS3-like this thing got, the more the audience was positively responding to it.  That's when I started to actively loathe it.  If you're gonna get a shit sandwich like this and sit there with your maw agape asking for seconds while ignoring BULLET TO THE HEAD, then you deserve all the terrible movies you get.  And be sure to watch them on your phone while you're at it.

And even though Willis isn't even present for some of the more "spectacular" action scenes, he's as much to blame as any of the behind-the-scenes personnel (I haven't even mentioned director John Moore yet, because, well, why?).  Willis' career is in a weird place right now.  He's been working relentlessly, doing everything from THE EXPENDABLES 2 to the critically acclaimed MOONRISE KINGDOM and LOOPER to straight-to-DVD 50 Cent productions like SET-UP, CATCH .44, and FIRE WITH FIRE, along with some barely-released duds that nobody sees (THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY and LAY THE FAVORITE).  And he's got G.I. JOE 2, RED 2, and SIN CITY 2 coming out in the next several months.  He can certainly be forgiven for being tired, but A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD just feels desperate.  He's not only tired, but he's also obviously bored.  When Schwarzenegger said "I'll be back" in THE EXPENDABLES 2, he did everything short of turn to the camera, wink to the audience, and ask if they were having a good time.  It's all in the attitude. When Willis finally lets loose with "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!" here, he does it with all the spirit and enthusiasm of someone reading a DMV eye chart.  He spends the entire film looking inconvenienced and like he'd rather be somewhere else.  And did you see Willis on THE LATE SHOW with Letterman last week?   They showed a CGI-heavy action clip and Willis looked vaguely embarrassed.  He's a smart guy.  He's made good movies, and he can be a great actor when he wants to be.  He knows this is garbage.  With all the thousands of man-hours put in by the tech crew (what a strange credit--it almost feels like pre-emptive defense), they should've just saved Willis the time and CGI'd his entire performance.

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