“Skyfall” gave us a 50th anniversary James Bond who seemed renewed and revitalized for another half-century of adventures, but “A Good Day to Die Hard,” coming in 25 years after the iconic action classic that launched the series, fails to do right by John McClane, the quippy, kvetchy NYPD detective played by Bruce Willis.
This latest caper feels like a real letdown in what has generally been an intelligent and exciting series — where previous criminal plans were twisty and ingenious, this one’s awkward and nonsensical, and while earlier action sequences may have been improbable and over-the-top, they at least made some logical sense within the plot, something the latest screenwriter apparently couldn’t be bothered to address.
Since McClane got to patch things up with his daughter in 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard” (and Mary Elizabeth Winstead gamely pops up for a cameo here), the grizzled cop now reaches out to his son, traveling to Moscow when he finds out that Jack (Jai Courtney, “Jack Reacher”) has just been arrested for murder there. Also facing trial is former billionaire Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who plans to use his day in court to air dirty laundry about his former comrade Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), who’s about to be appointed defense minister.
The elder McClane arrives on the scene just in time to create an international incident — Jack, as it turns out, works for the CIA, but the delay caused by encountering his dad messes up the transfer of Komarov to his fellow agents. The trio travels to a safe house that soon fails to live up to its name, and suddenly they’re on the run from Chagarin’s goons as they try to dig up Komarov’s file of evidence and flee the country.
While the first “Die Hard” was a Swiss watch of precise plotting and layered character development — the next three installments could, at least, tell time — “A Good Day to Die Hard” makes lots of noise but little sense. Why, for instance, does John chase Jack through the streets of Moscow, overturning cars and causing countless collisions, when he’s not even there in an official capacity? Say what you will about the car that downs a helicopter in “Live Free,” it made sense in context.
There are some entertaining explosions and shoot-outs to be found here, but the “Die Hard” franchise has always been smart about juggling the action-movie money shots with sharp dialogue and characters whose quirks and tics felt somewhat realistic. Why this venerable series has been handed over to the writer of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and the director of “Max Payne” is anyone’s guess, but these hacks do McClane and his fans no favors.
When things aren’t blowing up, we’re treated to the awkward “you were never there for me” father-son spats of Willis and Courtney, both of whom have demonstrated elsewhere that they’re capable of juggling humor and machismo, but the material doesn’t deliver. Courtney is forced to spend the first half of the film in a bratty pout, and their eventual “Daddy Die Hard” conversations about their parent-child issues are neither revelatory nor amusing.
If “A Good Day to Die Hard” was meant to pass the reins from one generation to the next, they at least got the casting right; with relatively few credits, Courtney already comes off as versatile and striking enough to make a name for himself as an action hero. Without better writing and directing, however, let “Die Hard” die before the McClane name can be further besmirched.