February 18, 2013

Movie Mondays: A Good Day to Die Hard

Yippee Ki-Yay Movie Franchise!

Title: A Good Day to Die Hard
Director: John Moore
Skip Woods (Based on certain characters created by Roderick Thorp)
Produced By:
Giant Pictures, TSG Entertainment
Distributed By:
20th Century Fox
Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snignir
Release Date:
February 14, 2013
Rated R

This week, we’ll take a look at the newest installment in the Die Hard franchise.  Up until now the Die Hard brand included four films, at least eight video games, and even a comic book series.  Now, we have A Good Day to Die Hard, marking John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) fifth trip to the big screen.

The film starts with John McClane’s estranged son Jack arrested in Russia for murder.  As it turns out, Jack McClane, or John McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney), is a CIA agent trying to extract political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) from Russia, because he has evidence against a corrupt political official.  So, John goes to Russia to help his son (how, we don’t know, and neither does he), Jack is trying to get out of Russia and complete his mission, and the shit hits the fan the second these two are in the same place at the same time.  After two and a half very obvious and boring plot-twists later, we go from having one villain to about four villains, with certain villains getting taken out and changing the line-up back to two by the end of the film.  Don’t worry; nothing is being spoiled by you knowing this.  Seriously, you could fall asleep during the film and still see the twists coming.

So, we have our first villain, a corrupt politician who never actually interacts with either of our heroes.  There is villain #2, #1’s right-hand-man, a tap-dancing, carrot-munching moron who talks way too much.  Without revealing too much, plot-twist #1 gives us villain #3, plot-twist #2 is a double-cross that reveals villain #4, and plot-twist #2.5 reveals a short moment later that villain #3 was actually in on the double-cross all along.  It’s all much less complicated and much more stupid than it sounds.

This movie is bad, folks.  From the acting to the special effects, editing, cinematography, script, pacing, and even the musical score, practically everything about this film is lousy from start to finish.  The one positive aspect of this film that should get any real praise is the sound.  So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and look at these issues, shall we?

Bad actor and over-actor.

The acting comes in two forms; either completely phoned in or completely over the top.  All of the film’s side characters, except for villain #2 (the tap-dancer, if you were paying attention), look like they were sleep-walking through this movie.  None of them show any signs of being able to actually portray an emotion.  And then there’s the problem with our two heroes.  Bruce Willis is either fumbling through a scene like he’s barely conscious (just listen to him in the first few scenes he’s in), or he’s hamming it up screaming at the top of his lungs about how he’s supposed to be on vacation (a running gag that never becomes funny).  Villain #2 delivers so much cheese every time he’s on screen you’d think he was playing a dairy farmer.  But the worst offender of the bunch is Jai Courtney, who manages to be completely wooden while still somehow overacting.

What you don’t see: TONS of henchmen jog into the wall of bullets.

The editing and pacing are horrendous.  There’s no time given to the plot or setting, so the movie just becomes one big blur of action scenes, occasionally interrupted by our heroes traveling to the next action scene.  No lingering shots to build atmosphere; the only lengthy shots the film ever has are badly rendered moments of CGI action shown in slow motion.  The music is really generic, which is odd considering Marco Beltrami also worked on the previous Die Hard film, which had a rather spectacular score.  There are about ten seconds total that bring back a leitmotif from the previous films, but otherwise there’s nothing to set this music apart from any other generic action flick score.

This scene got cut down. If you’re going to leave in so many 80s cliches, why not leave in one of the more appealing ones?

The script offers no real characterization for anyone.  The villains are all cookie-cutter bad guys who are bad for the sake of being bad.  Jack is written as this completely over the top, one-dimensional character who utterly despises his father, with no real back story given.  We’re told in about 30 seconds that John was pretty much an absentee father and husband.  If you’re familiar with the previous films, you know that this was the main reason for his separation from his wife and eventual divorce.  His wife and daughter distanced themselves from John, but Jack is just pure rage until the final act of the film, even threatening to shoot his dad.  Being angry is believable, but this much rage from the outset is just so over the top it’s actually irritating.  John is reduced from the likable jerk every-man from the first four films to an irredeemable asshole in this fifth installment.  He jacks cars from innocent bystanders, and instead of spouting some humorous quip and making you like him again, he just screams at them for not speaking English.  Oh, and he has this really annoying running gag/joke where he constantly complains about how he’s supposed to be on vacation.  The movie starts with him going to Russia to somehow save his son.  How is that a vacation?  The script’s jokes don’t even conform to its own plot.

Just chillin’ tradin’ one-liners after nearly dying half a dozen times.

Furthermore, the script has John and son portrayed as unstoppable terminators surviving death-defying feats over and over.  Now, McClane has always been unstoppable, but in previous films he’s usually pretty bloody and in need of major medical attention by the end of the film.  For instance, this films climactic battle takes place in Chernobyl, and they make the radiation concern a major plot-point.  The villains are all wearing radiation suits, but not our heroes.  I guess good guys are immune to radiation.  In this film McClane nonchalantly walks away from things that should have killed him so often that even Wile E. Coyote would be left scratching his head.

In addition to these problems, the script makes random attempts at callbacks to the first film, but in such a way that just seems out of place.  For instance, John’s ringtone is Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which is nice but random.  It reminds you of the first film, but serves no other purpose and just seems out of place.  There is also a scene where villain #2 declares that he hates cowboys, which is another reference to the first film, but also totally random.  Either way, these scene-killing moments just left this reviewer scratching his head, wondering “why bother at all?”

Director John Moore apparently stated that he wanted the camera work to be handheld, shaky-cam style, with constant wildly shifting motion and close-ups, quickly zooming in and out because he wanted the “camera to mimic that surprise and confusion” the characters are feeling.  All shaky-cam does is make your film look bad or hide questionable special effects.  But this film actually uses shaky-cam when people are walking and talking, and uses slow motion when the bad special effects pop up.

The ridiculousness of the Official Mobile Game PERFECTLY sums up this entire film!

Now, it’s not all bad.  Remember that I praised the sound?  Well the sound mix, foley mixing, and sound effects are all quite excellently handled, and the top-notch sound design really helps the movie put its audience right in the middle of the action.  Too bad the rest of the film, including most of that action, falls flat in every way imaginable.  Also, there are a few moments in the film, like the scene where Jack finally calls John “Dad,” that are really well done and capture the feel of the previous films, but unfortunately come either right before or after moments of such sheer stupidity that their charm is all but lost.

The few moments it has to shine only serve to remind us of previous better installments, which only make matters worse.  As of now, rumors are circulating that a SIXTH and FINAL installment will be made, titled Old Habits Die Hard.  I want this film to come out, not because I see any promise in the franchise after this film, but because this fifth film was so horrible that I don’t want this to be the flick that ends the series.  I want this franchise to go out on a high note.

This movie gets two points for the few good moments and the superb sound effects and mixing, and one extra point for the benefit of the doubt; because I’ll accept that there might have been something good that I missed somehow.
So, all in all I’d score it 3 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger