The fifth film in a franchise that began way back in 1988 demonstrates Hollywood's faith in the repetition of formulas and its concomitant tendency toward depletion of imagination. The new movie in the "Die Hard" series, "A Good Day to Die Hard," deploys just about all the elements that distinguished its predecessors, including Bruce Willis, who returns once again as the intrepid, indestructible New York cop John McClane. In another grand Hollywood tradition, the flick also adds a few new twists that in no way actually improve the work.
In "A Good Day" John McClane (Willis) travels to Moscow, of all places, to help his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney), who is in some kind of trouble with the law. Almost as soon as he sees his son, all hell, in the now time-honored "Die Hard" tradition, breaks loose. Some bad guys in the pay of a Russian billionaire blow up a convoy of cars outside a Moscow courthouse, and Jack emerges in the company of another Russian billionaire, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), the target of the bombs, and a wild car chase through city streets ensues.
That improbable chase, which involves Jack and his companion in one vehicle, the villains in some sort of military truck, and McClane in a series of commandeered automobiles, results in the destruction of hundreds of cars, scores of injured motorists, and severe damage to city streets and buildings; Moscow will never be the same. It also sets the tone for the headlong pace and utter incredibility of the rest of the movie's plot.
McClane eventually outwits, outraces, and outcrashes the bad guys and catches up with his son, who turns out to be a CIA agent on a mission to extract Komarov from the country and recover an important secret file. From that point Jack and John fight a continuous gun battle with Komarov's enemies, who also want the file. The innumerable shootouts culminate in a confrontation at Chernobyl, a location so toxic it should make all the combatants glow in the dark (none do, alas).
Throughout the nonstop action John and Jack survive a truly remarkable, not to say preposterous, variety of violent assaults. They shoot thousands of bullets against the bad guys with an array of automatic weapons that would inspire any NRA stalwart to weep with envy, endure a vicious beating, escape several huge explosions, shoot down a helicopter gunship, fall off a couple of buildings, and undergo several spectacular defenestrations.
In the midst of all the mayhem a couple of relatively perfunctory personal stories develop. One concerns the apparently difficult relationship between father and son — Jack blames John for his lifelong absenteeism and neglect, a problem John strives to repair with his actions, advice, and a string of unfunny wisecracks. The other, also parental, involves Komarov and his lovely daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir), who together create a doublecross followed by a triplecross, all based on a McGuffin right out of Hitchcock.
In a movie like "A Good Day to Die Hard" nobody surely cares terribly deeply about the quality of the performances. The cast behaves in a generally unexceptionally straightforward manner, modestly occupying second place behind the pyrotechnics and bloodshed. One actor, Rasha Bukvic, plays a major villain in a somewhat eccentric manner, doing a little tap dance before beating the McClanes with a gun butt and regretting that he never became a hoofer — very sad. The real stars of such a picture are the stuntmen and stuntwomen, who in this case number in the scores in the credits, and the folks who rig the explosions and car crashes.
Bruce Willis, recently decorated by the French government by the way, does his usual and by now tiresome, offhand oneliners, delivered in his weak, whispery voice; he at least underlines the notion that the picture is actually a kind of comedy, almost a parody of its particular series. Further, his presence reminds us of how much contemporary cinema owes him — he actually created the figure of the short, muscular, tough, shaven-headed action hero. Without Bruce Willis, like it or not, there would be no Vin Diesel or Jason Statham, for example, and maybe even no Daniel Craig. As a Hemingway character says, fix yourself on that.