'A Good Day To Die Hard' — barely good enough

‘Da’ if you like Willis, lots of action, chases and loud explosions

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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John McClane (Bruce Willis) and son Jack (Jai Courtney) never say die in their war to stop a nuclear weapons heist in "A Good Day to Die Hard." (Frank Masi/Twentieth Century Fox.

It’s been almost 25 years since tough guy John McClane first demonstrated how hard it is to kill him — and how easy it is for him to kill loads of other people. In that time, the expectations for McClane and his Die Hard tales have become very clear. Gunplay must be extensive, and loud. Things must blow up, preferably in elaborate ways. Heavy machinery will make an appearance. At least one villain has to be both colorful and chatty. McClane — played by Bruce Willis — will be bloody but unstoppable, and still must crack wise.

Writer Skip Woods and director John Moore try to meet all those needs in A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth film in the series. They do so in ways that also make this the most ridiculous of all the Die Hard films. But when, say, Willis and company are in the middle of a crazy car chase through Moscow — one so extreme that I thought about how much money the film’s stunt drivers must be making — then the audience will most likely just sit back, say “Whooaaaaa,” and maybe even laugh a little. Because, whether in the way McClane survives so many disasters with so little damage, or the plot elements left dangling because there is no need for another action sequence, A Good Day to Die Hard is simply a cartoon. Far from the best in the Die Hard series, it is nonetheless energetic and nutty enough that I, too, laughed more than once; like some of the sequences in The Expendables 2 (where Willis also took part in some goofy action moments), it dares you to devote even one second to questions of plausibility.

The new film takes place in Russia, where McClane heads after learning his son Jack (Jai Courtney, from TV’s Spartacus) is in prison there and awaiting trial. It should not surprise anyone that Jack’s more than just your average jailbird, and that McClane’s arrival coincides with an explosion, shootouts and that epic car chase — and McClane’s involvement in an effort to get a Russian and a secret file he has out of the country.

While McClane has a good relationship with his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, reprising the role from Live Free or Die Hard ), things between John and Jack are strained. Fortunately, there is nothing like repeated acts of violence to make two men bond, especially as they realize that their activities are leading to some very serious business. Well, as serious as A Good Day to Die Hard gets, which is not much.

Instead, it lets the stars scowl (Courtney’s is considerable, though not as polished as Willis’) and a villain preen. (That said, A Good Day does prove wanting when it comes to villains; this bunch is not remotely as entertaining as the Gruber brothers, or even Timothy Olyphant’s cyber-genius in Live Free.)

The big finale includes nods to at least two previous Die Hard movies as it goes on its ka-booming way.

As I said, it is not as good as many of the previous films and sillier than all of them. But A Good Day to Die Hard passes the time reasonably well, as long as you understand going in what the expectations are.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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