David Dodd 10:32 a.m., May 25
Review: A Good Day to Die Hard
Note to franchise: drop dead already!
The third act plays out inside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but take my word for it: A Good Day to Die Hard is a bigger disaster than the 1986 meltdown.
Other than Bruce Willis reprising the role as John McLane, nothing in the film bears even the remotest connection to any of its four predecessors. McLane pulls up stakes and catches the first red eye to Russia to help his son (Jai Courtney) have fun "killing f@#&ers."
How this for a new wrinkle: after a few sentences of McLane fracturing the Russian language, it turns out his cabbie can actually speak English! The second Travis Bickleski learns of our hero's home town, he breaks into a chorus of New York, New York. It's a stunning example of screenwriter Skip Woods' reductive thinking at its most abridged.
After the giddy exchange, we bridge the next scene with 16 seconds of a Sinatra-soundalike warbling the timeworn ditty. Combine this with the fact that it's the only Die Hard film not to be shot anamorphically -- wasn't there a SovietScope lens lying around the Moscow Film Studio? -- and it doesn't take a bloodhound to sniff out cost-cutting efforts.
At one point the bad guy announces, "It's not 1986" in reference to the nuclear power plant. Check out the secondary villains' outmoded Billy Idol/Duran Duran hairstyles. Financed by American money, I'll be damned if this doesn't feel as though it was produced by the Kremlin in '86 -- around the time prints of Golan & Globus productions were first smuggled into the U.S.S.R. -- and immediately exiled to a film exchange in Siberia.
One door closes, another opens. Michael Winner's body is barely cold and already we have a hack to descend the Death Wish(es) director's recently abdicated throne. Never much to begin with, John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix, Max Payne) seems to forget more about filmmaking with each passing project. The action sequences are incoherent blurs that make the rapid rhythms of The Bourne Identity look like sublime samples of silent Soviet dialectical montage.
It's been decades since a major studio release displayed cinematography the likes of this. Variety named Jonathan Sela (Soul Plane, Max Payne) one of the "10 Cinematographers to Watch" in 2009. Was this honor bestowed by the 'Showbiz Bible' or mustered up by Heinz 57 Varieties? Sela combines faltering pans with 20x1 zooms as his camera searches (frequently in vain) for an object or person to hold on.
At 97 minutes this clocks in as the shortest entry in the series. If only they put the time to good use instead of blowing up everything in sight before calling it a day. As a standpat fan of the franchise, the studio should have exercised the right to die clause and allowed the series to make a dignified exit.
Reader Rating: Zero Stars