Die Hard is dead. I made my peace with this at the release of Live Free or Die Hard, a movie that saw John McClane fully transformed into a cartoon character (and that brought Kevin Smith, for reasons knowable only to the dark ones, into the Die Hard series), but it’s A Good Day To Die Hard that truly hammers the point home. And while some could argue (I don’t know how, but they have) that Live Free is a fun movie when removed from the shadow of the Die Hard films, A Good Day to Die Hard is a shoddy movie on every level on which we judge films.
There’s so much wrong with A Good Day To Die Hard that I don’t know where to begin. Is it the fact that the film has John McClane cry out a terrible catchphrase “I’m on vacation!” a dozen times despite the fact that he is obviously and demonstrably not on vacation? Is it the sheer visual incompetence on display in the chaotic and pointless action scenes? Is it the way the script has removed all personality from the characters, leaving them simply to sleepwalk through plot points, occasionally stopping to shoot people by just standing in the middle of a room and pointing a gun offscreen? Is it the way it makes Moscow look like a generic blue-lit city? It’s all of these things that makes A Good Day To Die Hard a chore to sit through, and they’re just the surface problems.
A Good Day To Die is a movie made for stupid people, and it has no illusions otherwise. The film explains what Chernobyl is at least twice, for Christ’s sake. There’s a standard Die Hard ‘twist’ in the end, but otherwise the plot is so generic, so paint-by-numbers, that you can walk out to refill your 64oz Coke at any time and miss nothing. It’s a movie made to be watched in the background while you’re managing Farmville, a series of noises and images that mean nothing and have no chance at connecting with a human brain. And thus is ideal for those who have long since given up on their brains.
Bruce Willis is at least sort of engaged - this is no Cop Out Death March - but I don’t know what character he’s playing. This isn’t John McClane on any level, it’s just a generic action guy. He also occasionally behaves like he's come down with a case of lead poisoning, something that's blocking his basic cognitive abilities. I know, I said in the first paragraph that I had already made my peace with the death of Die Hard, but couldn’t they have tried even the littlest, tiniest bit?
This time he’s teamed up with his son, played by Jai Courtney - possessor of an enormous head and some pretty decent charisma. It turns out Jack Gennaro (he’s sworn off his father’s name for reasons that are vague enough to allow the two to have a touching reunion but not enough to actually make us feel like John McClane is a human being on any level. It’s the old ‘he worked too much’ thing, the go-to excuse for bad dads in these kinds of movies) is a CIA spy, and so the premise is so supposed to be that the very professional son butts heads with the very loose dad. Except everything about the script - by Skip Woods, who is a serious contender for the worst writer in Hollywood, and a name that automatically makes me not want to see a film - is so undercooked that this conflict gets lip service but no actual play.
There’s plenty of action, but most of it is shot so poorly, edited so atrociously and then shaken so badly in post that you rarely know what’s going on. There’s a car chase towards the opening that is so terribly executed that it could be taken out of this film, played at MOMA and be hailed as some kind of experimental non-narrative filmmaking critique of modern action films. The big finale, set in the ruins of Chernobyl (don’t worry if you’re six years old and/or brain damaged, the film will spell out to you the historical significance of this location), is a shoddy mess of CGI garbage and perfume commercial slomo. The final showdown is so long and boring you’d think it was Bela Tarr behind the camera.
Bela Tarr has a style, though*. John Moore, a filmmaker so anonymous that I assume he maintains a closet full of faces from which he chooses every day, has no style. He is just trying to emulate various 21st century action aesthetics, and he’s doing it poorly. There’s nothing unifying A Good Day To Die Hard on a cinematic level besides the fact that every single scene, taken individually, fucking sucks.
There’s John Moore’s aesthetic: absolute fucking garbage.
A Good Day To Die Hard will likely open this weekend, but I’m curious how it performs in the long run. This is a movie so objectively bad, so terribly written, so poorly acted, so miserably directed, that I honestly cannot understand how anybody could find it worth their money. Hell, I don’t understand how this movie could be considered worth the bandwidth necessary to torrent it. Surely the American people won’t fall for this?
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” HL Mencken once said. And this weekend Fox is really putting that to the test.
* Also, I'm just taking fucking with Bela here. No need for angry pro-Satantango emails.