Friday, February 15, 2013

A Sad Way to Die Hard

Can't say I didn't see this coming. But A Good Day to Die Hard is horrible.

And no, I don't mean "not as good as the original" or "not good in a 'snooty art house film' way" - I mean it's legitimately terrible even in the field of brain-dead star-driven action vehicles. I'm not even sure I can properly express how not just bad, but bizarrely incompetent the entire affair is.

But I'm gonna do my level best.

The Die Hard franchise has had an interesting history. The original was based on the Roderick Thorpe novel  Nothing Lasts Forever, a sequel to The Detective which had received a film version decades prior with Frank Sinatra headlining. After Nothing was optioned, Sinatra was initially offered the chance to reprise his role, but turned it down. The production also toyed with the idea of being a sequel to the 1985 Schwarzenegger film Commando, but eventually went a different route, re-wrote the protagonist, and an action icon - and a new "type" of action hero - was born.

After becoming a break-out hit in 1988, a sequel to Die Hard was inevitable. Oddly enough, the sequels kept starting out as other movies first. Notably the third, which began as a screenplay called Simon Says and only "became" Die Hard With a Vengeance much later in production (a fact that's very apparent during the film's first half).

Now, whether the fifth film of the franchise was originally conceived as another "John McClane fights terrorists who are really thieves" film, that's certainly the only way this colossal waste of 97 minutes would have ever made money.

So the movie starts with John McClane going to Russia because his estranged son (yeah, they're repeating the family dynamic from the last outing, but with swapped genders) is imprisoned there. But his son is actually in the CIA, and it's part of a sting to get a file implicating a Russian Minister in Very Bad Things, and of course McClane throws a wrench into the works. Because that's what he does. Don't ask why no one in the US government isn't keeping tabs on McClane, after he saved dozens of people in LA, hundreds (if not thousands) at Dulles Airport, even more in New York City, and basically the ENTIRE DAMN COUNTRY just a few years ago. And don't ask why Jack McClane is so pissed at his dad, who wasn't exactly spending his cop time jockeying papers or taking bribes and eating doughnuts, what with SAVING THE COUNTRY.

Basically, don't ask anything from the movie, because the film is pretty clueless. While Live Free or Die Hard could be dumb at times (it went the route of making hackers "Wizards with laptops" that was so popular in the 90's), it at least established rules that it followed within the movie. It also gave the audience time with the characters, let them play off of each other in several different situations and with a developing dynamic, and - oh yeah - had some KICK-ASS action scenes. A Good Day to Die Hard does none of these things. The action is so boringly-orchestrated and poorly-shot that it comes off like a second-rate TV show most of the time, except when painfully-fake CGI gets used (which is a lot during the second half) when it looks like a second-rate direct-to-DVD movie. The one job of a movie like this, and it fails even there.

But worst of all, the film-makers obviously don't understand why the original Die Hard worked. It defied expectations and forged bonds between its characters that the audience could relate to. People didn't just like McClane because he cracked wise, but because that was his coping mechanism for being an ordinary guy out of his depth, trying to save his wife, and praying to God not to die. There was a developed supporting cast with their own personalities, helping or hindering him, and a brilliant villain playing off of him for most of the film.

The other three sequels attempted to replicate this formula, and while they never matched the original (the fourth actually being the closest), they at least tried. The fifth film makes a few obligatory references to franchise history, with the "it's all about money" moment, the "Yippie-ki-yay" catchphrase, and even an eye-rolling repeat of Hans Gruber's "slow motion falling" shot, but it's superficial. The interplay between McClane Sr. and McClane Jr. is relegated to the laziest "You were never there" and "I worked too much" crap we've seen done countless times before but with no development or context whatsoever, and there's no supporting cast here either. For all its "exotic" locale, A Good Day to Die Hard feels cramped and small, even compared to the original which took place inside a single building. There you had multiple factions with Gruber's forces, the hostages, McClane, the NYPD, and the FBI all jockeying for position, as well as memorable characters like Al and Holly and Ellis and Karl. You had a great build-up to the final confrontation between hero and villain.

There's nothing like that here. Most of the film is centered on the same half-dozen characters who chase each other around, sometimes for no apparent reason. There's not even much effort made to explain why McClane and Son don't just skip town - an option they legitimately have halfway through the movie, the LACK of which is central to what makes McClane work as an action hero (he usually has no choice) - and the answer? "It'd be bad. Terrorism. WMDs. Nukes." Really? That's not even a plot, that's just dropping words that scare people when they show up on the news. Even the Transformers movies put more effort into their "stories" than that.

If I seem harsh, it's because this movie has more than earned it. I can be discerning, but on the whole I'm not terribly demanding of my popcorn films. I own and enjoy every other film in the Die Hard series. I'm the sort of person who's un-ironically excited to see Fast & Furious 6. But this movie feels amateur. Willis is still entertaining as the long-suffering detective, and scores a couple decent moments with McClane's kids on chemistry alone, but there's so little of him even in his own movie that it feels like a colossal waste. And the people who are usually pretty bad at their jobs (namely writer Skip Woods and director John Moore) raise the bar in blockbuster ineptitude.

Bruce Willis has two other sequels coming out before the end of this summer (G.I. Joe: Retaliation and RED 2), both of which I was looking forward to. Now, I'm just hoping they're better than this. They can hardly be worse

. . . Right?

P.S. Remember how people kinda lost their minds when Live Free or Die Hard was rated PG-13, you know, because R-rated action films were already on their way out during the 90's and Fox wanted to make some money? Well, this movie pretty much puts the "that's what ruined the series" argument to bed. A Good Day to Die Hard is rated R, and not only does that not improve the terrible movie in any way, it's another bit of obviously surface-level pandering. I would bet real money that the film-makers added some ADR swearing and CGI blood to up the rating. There's actually a lower body count, less cursing, and fewer injuries to the characters than in the PG-13 predecessor, and the one "interesting" death in the movie (because that's a "thing" in this franchise) was stolen from Captain America: The First Avenger.

And I only wish I was joking.

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