‘A Good Day to Die Hard,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


According to box-office pundits, “A Good Day to Die Hard” (on further reference: “Die Hard 5”) will be the big box-office winner this holiday weekend.

It will reassert Bruce Willis’ box-office magnetism. And it will do it while kicking dirt on the aspirations of his two vintage rivals, Sylvester Stallone (“Bullet to the Head”) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Last Stand”), each of whom had a non-franchise comeback film crash and burn at the American box office in the past month (foreign markets will be another story).

Which is discouraging, given the major difference between Willis’ latest vehicle as hard-charging cop John McClane and the Stallone and Schwarzenegger films: the level of cynicism. Where Stallone and Schwarzenegger were trying to embody new (if familiar) characters and try to rework an old formula, Willis’ “Die Hard 5” has taken the formula and distilled it into schtick. They’ve eliminated the need for McClane to do anything except shoot guns, look pissed and spout reductive one-liners about how life has cast him as a one-man wrecking crew who is a trouble magnet – and trouble’s worst enemy.

In the early installments of this saga, which began with 1988’s “Die Hard,” McClane was an ordinary guy, a cop who happened to walk into a bad situation – and then another and another. Terrorist-securities thieves, rogue American military, a guy threatening to take down the power grid on the East Coast – somehow, their elaborate plans trip over an untied shoestring named John McClane.

And, for the most part, as increasingly preposterous as most of the plots were, they were at least offered with a straight face. By the point McClane gets to this fifth outing, he’s like Roger Moore in one of those early-1980s James Bond abominations, like “Octopussy” or “For Your Eyes Only”: carried along by the conventions of the form and commenting on them, rather than simply being part of them. Suddenly he’s a guy who goes looking for people to kill, instead of fighting for his life.

The plot, such as it is, has McClane flying to Moscow, because his son, John Jr. (Jai Courtney), has been arrested.

This review continues on my website.

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