A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)
By Michael Arruda

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(THE SCENE: Russia.  A street jam-packed with vehicles stuck in traffic.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits in the back of a cab.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m in Russia today to review the latest in the DIE HARD series, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013) which happens to take place in Russia.

As you can see, I’m doing this one solo, as L.L. Soares is back in the States on another assignment.

CAB DRIVER:  You write Cinema Knife Fight?

MA:  Yeah.  You know about the column?  And you speak English?

CAB DRIVER:  Yes, I speak English, and I know about your column.  It’s a real hooter!

MA: I think you mean “hoot.”

CAB DRIVER:  No, hooter.  Look!  (Points out window at well-endowed babe in tight fitting T-shirt walking along sidewalk.)  So, you write Cinema Knife Fight.  Don’t worry. I’ll get you out of this traffic.  Fasten your garter belt!

MA:  I think you mean seat belt.

CAB DRIVER:  No, I’m talking to my wife. (taps tiny headphone sticking in his ear).

MA:  Oh.

CAB DRIVER (talking into headset):  Make sure it’s good and fastened.  I want to play the Here Comes the Bride game when I come home tonight.

MA:  Too much information.  Too much information.

(Cabbie presses a button and suddenly the taxi jettisons into the sky and starts flying above the traffic.)

MA:  Whoa!  What is this?  THE JETSONS?  What the hell are you doing?

CAB DRIVER:  It’s something I installed myself, for my special passengers.

MA:  I think I’d rather be in traffic.  Besides, I’m reviewing an action movie.  I don’t think I’m going to be taken seriously if I’m reviewing it from a flying car.  It’s just not believable.  Of course, the film I’m reviewing today, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, suffers from the same problem.

I didn’t believe a damn thing that was going on.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) learns that his son is about to be sentenced to life in prison in Russia on murder charges.  McClane has been estranged from his son for a while, but it comes as no surprise to McClane that his son has found himself on the wrong side of the law, because he believes his son to be a troubled young man.  But it is his son, after all, and so McClane goes to Russia to help him out.

But things aren’t what they seem.  McClane’s son Jack (Jai Courney) really works for the CIA, and the murder charge is just a ruse to get him close to a Russian political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who both the Americans and Russians are interested in because of the whereabouts of a “file” that only Komarov knows about.  Ah, it’s the old secret file trick!

When the bad guys attempt to kill Komarov by blowing up the courthouse where he’s about to stand trial, Jack McClane whisks him out of harm’s way only to run smack dab into his dad John McClane, who thinks his son is getting himself into deeper trouble.

After some initial squabbling, John and Jack settle their differences and together they attempt to get Komarov to a pre-arranged safe house.  When that location is compromised, all hell breaks loose as the Russians who want that secret file will stop at nothing to capture Komarov, but they picked the wrong day to launch their plan, because on this day, they’ll have to square off against John and Jack McClane.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD has the weakest plot of the entire series.  It’s really nothing more than an excuse to feature Bruce Willis in action scenes spouting off humorous one-liners.

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I had a lot of problems with this one.  I don’t know where to begin.

I’ll start with the biggest problem, the believability factor.  This movie is so unbelievable that it might as well have featured flying cars like the one I’m riding in now.

CAB DRIVER:  Ah, you like to feature my flying car in a movie?

MA:  Yeah, if it’s produced by Walt Disney.

After Jack whisks Komarov away from the burning courthouse, he’s immediately pursued by the bad guys in an armored vehicle.  John McClane, seeing that his son is in danger, steals the first vehicle he sees and suddenly we’re in the midst of a high speed chase.  Now, this scene had the potential to be a really intense sequence, but it isn’t because the things Willis does while driving are so ludicrous and unbelievable, we’re entering Indiana Jones territory.

Now, perhaps John McClane has become so overblown that he’s crossed into the world of Indiana Jones.  I don’t know.  Sure, none of the DIE HARD movies have been all that realistic, but the original at least still played like a serious thriller.

Here, McClane has become a parody of himself.  He’s running around, especially in this chase scene, performing stunts that would have easily killed him, spewing out one-liners as if he’s on a nightclub stage.  In fact, the car chase scene almost plays like a comedy.  And that’s the difference between this movie and other action films where you also suspend disbelief.  In the better action films, in spite of the outlandish stunts and action sequences, there’s still a semblance of believability in the back of one’s mind where you believe that yes, this could happen, but here, in this movie, it’s not even close.  I’m sitting there thinking, there’s no way he could possibly survive this, unless of course, the whole thing is being played for laughs.

Also, the Russian bad guys have been hanging out with Dr. Evil.  They want to capture Komarov so they can locate the secret file.  So, what do they do?  They blow up an entire block to get to him!  Nice going!  Who does this sort of thing other than bad guys in an action movie where the point seems to be to blow up as many things as possible?  Wouldn’t it make more sense just to send your best undercover guys inside and whisk him out unnoticed?  Of course it would!

Later, Komarov is betrayed by his own daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir), and when he asks her why, she says money.  This rings so hollow that it comes as no surprise later in the film when it’s revealed that she really didn’t double-cross him.  Neither is it much of a surprise when we learn Komarov’s true intentions.  It’s all part of the DIE HARD franchise formula, which by now needs to be put to rest.

The screenplay by Skip Woods features a weak story that did nothing to draw me in, blah boring characters who added nothing to the plot, and it fails to instill life into an aging John McClane.  Once so interesting he could carry an entire movie, McClane has been reduced here almost to being a guest in his son’s story.  Woods also wrote the screenplay for X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009), a movie I liked much better than this.

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Even Bruce Willis doesn’t seem to be having a good time.  Sure, his John McClane is still that DIE HARD “bad boy,” and yes, he does get to utter his infamous catchphrase from the original movie, but unlike Sylvester Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013) who seemed to transcend their ages and remain volatile enough to pack a punch without age being a factor, Willis’s John McClane doesn’t.  Stallone and Schwarzenegger joked about their age, they addressed it head on, but here, no mention is made that McClane isn’t that “bad boy” anymore, but a “bad old guy.”

It would be difficult enough to believe a younger man pulling off the feats shown in this movie.  I certainly didn’t believe a guy Willis’ age could pull off these antics.

Jai Courtney seems to wear a permanent scowl on his face throughout the movie as Jack McClane, Mr. Die Hard Jr., and he gets to play straight man to Willis’ smart-ass senior citizen.  Courtney is about as compelling as a movie extra.  I liked him much better in the recent Tom Cruise movie, JACK REACHER (2012).

Sebastian Koch is pretty one-dimensional as Komarov, even though the character isn’t, as he’s more secretive than that secret file everybody wants, and Yuliya Snigir is just plain pretty as his daughter Irina.  Her character is nothing we haven’t seen before, but she’s a looker, and looks like she belongs in the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie.

And in one of the more wasted pieces of casting I’ve seen in a long time, there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a very talented actress who was excellent in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, and who also was in the recent genre films THE THING (2011) and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), reduced here to what amounts as a thankless cameo, as she reprises her role as John McClane’s daughter, Lucy, from the previous film in the series, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).  McClane should have taken Lucy with him to Russia.  It would have been a more interesting movie had she tagged along.

CAB DRIVER:  Live free or die hard?  Isn’t that a state model?

MA:  I think you mean mot—no.  I’m not going there this time.

CAB DRIVER:  Here we have similar phrase.  Live hard and die free.  Think about it!

MA:  That’s nice, poignant.  A little too deep for this column, but thanks.  I’m going to get back to the review now.

Director John Moore utilizes some odd camerawork in this movie.  In the aforementioned car chase scene, there are some weird cuts and close-up angles which resulted in making this sequence seem choppy when it should have run smoothly and seamlessly.  When you’re noticing the camerawork in a chase scene, rather than being caught up in the action of the moment, that’s not a good thing.

I can’t say that I liked A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  I found it way too over-the-top to be believable, and Bruce Willis didn’t wow me this time as John McClane either.  He seemed like an old man out of his element, blowing things up and shooting heavily armed men without a care in the world.  It’s almost as if he expects not to die.  Hmm.  Maybe Willis thought he was making a sequel to UNBREAKABLE (2000), rather than DIE HARD.

Simply put, it’s a good day to skip this movie.

I give it one and a half knives.

(Flying cab lands in parking lot.)

CAB DRIVER:  Okay, we’re here.

MA:  Perfect timing.  How much do I owe you?

CAB DRIVER:  For you, nothing.  You’re a Cinema Knife Fighter.  I’m honored to have you in my cab.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  And now I’m off to the annual International Movie Critics Convention where I’m the keynote speaker.

(looks at camera):  And if you believe that, you’d believe today’s movie.

—-END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD  ~ one and a half knives!

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