My son, my son, what have ye done: A Good Day to Die Hard

16 February 2013

'A Good Day to Die Hard', out now, is one of the worst films I've ever watched in a cinema...

Who hired the hacks?

Following his 2001 directorial feature debut Behind Enemy Lines - which boasted effective turns from Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson if absolutely nothing else - John Moore water-washed his CV with two remakes, in Flight of the Phoenix (2004) and The Omen (2006), and a videogame adaptation in Max Payne (2008). A Good Day to Die Hard, Moore's fifth film and the first in five years, is the top-to-bottom disaster that confirms his creatively bankrupt approach to action filmmaking.

Tasked with illustrating an original script by Skip Woods, however, Moore has it against him from the off: this, the latest entry into what is now the Die Hard franchise, follows Hitman (2007), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The A-Team (2010) on Woods' own CV, and piles risible dialogue and the most tired of narrative tropes upon an utterly charmless story. It's no wonder Bruce Willis has been notably awkward throughout his promotional tour on the run up to Good Day's release: one suspects he cottoned on long ago with regard to its crushingly mediocre finished product. But Willis might be to blame, too: if previous installment Live Free or Die Hard (2007) was also a steaming shitheap of hackwork, at least its star showed up. In contrast, here Willis's once-likeable NYPD cop John McClane looks and acts so thoroughly bored with proceedings that you wonder why the actor agreed to do it - did or does he owe someone money?

Another family plot, A Good Day to Die Hard sees McClane arriving in Moscow after wayward, resentful son Jack (Jai Courtney) is arrested. Arriving at the court where his son is to be tried, McClane is reluctantly dragged into another hellish day when anonymous heavies come to gun down Jack and co-defendant Koralov (Sebastian Koch). A truck chase ensues, pummelling us into submission (that the film was shot in Budapest is revealing both of how arbitrarily-scripted it is and of how offensively anonymous its direction is). As it turns out, McClane Jr. is an undercover CIA operative, and when carrot-chomping villain Alik (Radivoje Bukvic) shows up with a bunch of henchmen, father and son bond over bullets and leap their way through scaffolding on the way to obligatory reconciliation.

A Good Day to Die Hard's pass-the-baton arc is undone by a sheer lack of chemistry between Willis and Courtney (as head henchman, the latter had more cameraderie with Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher). And why is Yuliya Snigir undressing in a multi-storey carpark wearing nothing under her bike suit like a desperately unerotic QVC model? Amusingly but unintentionally, an early jailbreak sequence suggests, for a moment, that everybody is assisting John McTiernan's escape from his current real-life incarceration, in order to allow the director of the first (1988) and third (1995) Die Hard films a try at rescuing this project from the quicksand into which it dives from the moment McClane punches a Russian civilian and quips(!) some throwaway slur to him.

Whereas McTiernan was able to convey meaning - tension, social status, power relations, even spectacle - with something as simple as a focus-pull, Moore's film is on autopilot throughout: his visual palette is ugly and his editorial rhythms are a shambles. Impositions from the BBFC, to make the film a marketable 12A, may account to some degree for the latter, of course, but in truth the filmmaking is so literal, without any subtext whatsoever, that this film is far more objectionable in its impression of violence than most scenes in the first three Die Hard films.

What else is there to say with material like this? Needless to say, not much at all. It's the worst film I've seen in a cinema in a good while. Films of this ilk, of course, are a dime a dozen, and but for its link to a franchise that began with one of the most creative and exciting films ever made, I wouldn't have bothered. But hey, who gives a shit? Willis, the last man standing after co-hasbeens Stallone and Schwarzenegger both botched recent box-office endeavours, has outprofited his contemporaries, no doubt due to the security of a familiar franchise... one that has now hit rock-bottom like a money thief thrown from the Nakatomi Plaza.

But is that the sound of Bruce Willis's accountant scribbling up arithmetic, or of his agent scraping the bottom of a barrel?