Film Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Fifth go-round for New York cop John McClane finds him battling villains in a Moscow setting.

It's back to basics for the Die Hard franchise in A Good Day to Die Hard. Abandoning the humor, creative casting and smart plotting that made 2007's Live Free or Die Hard a huge box-office hit, this outing plunks New York cop John McClane into an incomprehensible Russian conspiracy marked by deafening shootouts, car chases and explosions. A disappointment on all levels, A Good Day to Die Hard will muster a strong turnout followed by weak word of mouth.

Bruce Willis looks suitably worn and grizzled as McClane, off to Moscow to track down his long-estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney). Accused of murder, Jack stands trial with Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a dissident with ties to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. To prevent Yuri from testifying, assassin Alik (Rasha Bukvic) unleashes an attack on the courthouse that puts the defendants on the run.

McClane steps in to rescue both after a chase that takes out enough cars to resurrect the Russian auto industry. Turns out John Jr. is a CIA agent ordered to get Yuri out of the country. But the Russian won't leave without his daughter Irina (Yulia Snigir), waiting in a nearby hotel ballroom. A rendezvous there results in a helicopter attack.

Double-crossed, the McClanes trail the Russians to Chernobyl, where a vault hides enough enriched uranium to start a war. Bonding over their wounds, father and son team up to save the day.

A Good Day to Die Hard unfolds on a gargantuan scale, but the stunt work and pyrotechnics can't hide how dull and pointless this story is. In previous entries, McClane fought to free his family; here, he's largely a bystander in a plot that makes almost no sense. With nothing personal at stake, his only motive is "to go out there and kill all the scumbags." Willis can still deliver lines like these with his trademark smirk, but the actor's age is now a liability in action scenes.

Apart from devising numbingly obvious double-crosses, screenwriter Skip Woods brings little to the franchise. When in doubt, he hurls characters out windows or through skylights—but still can't think up reasons why we should care about anonymous Russian bad guys killing each other. The film's ridiculously high body count and point-blank carnage are as off-putting as McClane's tired (and largely unintelligible) wisecracks.

Director John Moore, a veteran of remakes like The Omen, tries to pump up the film with plus-sized crashes and amplified sound effects. The big set-pieces clearly took a lot of effort to film, but feel like they've been edited at random. It's hard to discern a style or point-of-view in Moore's work, unless it's his annoying insistence on extreme close-ups shot with jittery, handheld cameras.

In any case, viewers will feel like they've seen this kind of story with this kind of action many times before, and in better movies. McClane's become a déclassé Bond or Bourne, only with limited skills and reduced physicality. The franchise deserves better.