A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (RATED R)
Though only half as old as the James Bond franchise, the “Die Hard” films hold the distinction of having only one actor in the role of wisecracking, hard-boiled police detective John McClane.
Showing few signs of slowing down, Bruce Willis has notched 25 years in his tough guy role of a New York police detective who manages, usually by trying to help a close family member, to get in the middle of messy situations.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” takes John McClane far afield of his familiar turf, no longer fighting the good fight on American soil, usually against some nasty, silky Euro trash in sharp suits.
This time around, at the film’s opening, McClane is dropped off at the airport by his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who warns him not to make a “big mess” of things upon his arrival in Moscow.
Lucy wisely knows of what she speaks, having been McClane’s targeted family member in “Live Free or Die Hard,” the previous installment. Now, it’s up to McClane to help his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney).
McClane can never ignore family in peril, even if Jack is being held in a foreign prison on a murder charge. As he must, John McClane will get to the bottom of the matter.
Our hero arrives just in time for Jack’s show trial in a courtroom where he is supposedly giving testimony that may implicate Russian thief-turned-whistleblower Komarov (Sebastian Koch).
Komarov poses a threat to his former partner Chagarin, a politician desperately trying to conceal his connection to the theft of weapons grade plutonium from Chernobyl. So Chagarin’s thugs blow up the courthouse.
Ensconced in bullet-proof holding tanks, Jack and Komarov survive the blast and make a daring escape, while the assorted bad guys shoot up the place in what is only the first of many extensive shootouts.
Meanwhile, John instinctively decides to help his son and Komarov escape from the villains, but Jack is not too pleased that his meddlesome father has arrived on the scene.
An even bigger surprise is that McClane Senior, a renowned detective, has no idea that his offspring is an undercover CIA agent who is helping Komarov in order to foil Chagarin’s ascension to greater political power.
At this point, the audience, and perhaps even the actors themselves, have only the vaguest notion of about the extent of the political intrigue and why Moscow is becoming like a war zone in an extreme videogame.
This fifth installment of the “Die Hard” series, dispatching character development to the lowest priority status, is all about action, the more explosive and violent the better.
What ensues is a spectacular, mind-blowing street chase that flattens and ravages more vehicles than the combined destruction of at least a decade’s worth of demolition derbies.
The father-son team of John and Jack has little time for bonding while dodging bullets and firebombs, and then executing narrow escapes.
Considering the brooding Jack harbors too many pent-up feelings of neglect, the glossing over of family drama is just as well. McClane Senior tries to lighten the mood by calling his son the “007 of Plainfield, New Jersey.”
The plot, such as it is, involves the unmasking of a prominent Russian figure, and in service of this objective is a virtual non-stop trail of violent action, with the McClanes surviving enough stunts that would kill or maim ordinary mortals.
One thing missing is an abundance of McClane’s sardonic one-liners, and though I think that McClane yelled his ubiquitous “Yippee Ki-Yay” punch line, just about any dialogue gets lost in the clutter of director John Moore’s obsession to blow up stuff.
By now, John McClane should be running out of relatives to save, but a “Die Hard 6” is reportedly in the works. Though fast approaching 60, the still fit Bruce Willis seems far removed from collecting Social Security.
Fans of the franchise should take to heart the title of “A Good Day to Die Hard,” knowing it’s a good day at the movies if all the chases, fights, shootouts and explosive stunts capably serve up the popular action thrills.
Those who have enjoyed recent action films like “Parker” and “Bullet to the Head,” to name a few, would seemingly find “A Good Day to Die Hard” a good bit of satisfying action entertainment.
DVD RELEASE UPDATE
Keeping to the action theme of this week’s film review, this is a good time to notice that Hollywood’s first great action hero was Douglas Fairbanks.
Cohen Media is releasing a pristine new restoration print of “The Thief of Bagdad,” Fairbanks’ magnificent 1924 fantasy epic.
“The Thief of Bagdad,” one of the biggest blockbusters of the silent era, is a dazzling “Arabian Nights” adventure fantasy, wherein Fairbanks’ dashing Ahmed is the thief who wins a princess.
More contemporary action fare comes from stylish, tense Asian action thriller “4 Assassins,” where four colleagues reunite in a dangerous face-off.
Ace hit-man Marcus Nang (Will Yun Lee) checks into a Hong Kong hotel room, waiting for his old colleagues, for reasons that remain a mystery.
First to arrive is lovely Cordelia Leigh (Mercedes Renard), Marcus’ former lover and equally deadly killer. The others soon show up, and then accusations fly, secrets are revealed and bullets let loose.
Following the standard formula, “4 Assassins” culminates in an explosive showdown from which no one is safe.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.