A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) – Directed by John Moore – Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvić, Pavel Lychnikoff, Cole Hauser, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
With A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, the Die Hard franchise has now made more movies that aren’t Die Hard movies than are Die Hard movies.
The first two Die Hard films – DIE HARD and DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER – defined the most copied blueprint in action movie history, by placing one man against a band of terrorists inside a closed location. DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE took the action out into the city of New York, while LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD took John McClane out on the road.
With the blueprint battle tied at two, I had hopes that A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD would see a return to the franchise’s roots. It’s not that DIE HARD 3 and 4 were bad films – VENGEANCE is a fantastic movie and LIVE FREE isn’t overly memorable but I had a good time watching it back when it came out and haven’t thought about it since.
Still, in watching Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down earlier in the week, I was reminded that the Die Hard in a Box formula is a pretty darn great one, and with the right director, right story, and right actors, the formula is a long way from being down. Both of the “Let’s Destroy the White House” movies are really enjoyable films, and it had put me in the mood for an old school approach.
The Die Hard approach.
Unfortunately, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is a terrible movie that not only fails to take the franchise back to its roots, but completely jettisons almost everything that’s worth liking about the franchise.
There are moments here that work. When the film takes a break from yelling at you with explosions and gunfire and hyperbolic stunts, when it stops throwing nameless and faceless Russians at you with their mumbling and grumbling and anti-American scoffs, when it just stops and takes a break and lets Bruce Willis do what he was paid to do, John McClane still draws you in and makes you want to like him and the film he’s in.
But a few cute lines, a few familiar cocks of the head, just aren’t enough to save what is, from start to finish, a really bad movie.
GOOD DAY isn’t a DIE HARD movie. It’s an action movie with DIE HARD stickers slapped all over it. It’s a fake Rolex, bought on the street, passed off as something you know but hiding something rotten beneath. The beauty of at least the first three DIE HARD movies is that you couldn’t take John McClane out without the film falling apart, at worst, or becoming something decidedly different, at best. In each of the first three movies, McClane is confined by the box he’s stuck in: Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles International Airport, and New York City. In each of these three films, the box becomes a character. The brilliant move comes in VENGEANCE where McClane gets to run around outside, but the filmmakers still make him feel contained by set boundaries.
GOOD DAY does none of this. It’s just loud and stupid and full of Russians who hate Americans, which makes me think this script was found in a closet labeled “1982.” Instead of making Moscow a character, GOOD DAY just sends McClane all over Russia and the Ukraine, but it might as well be Germany or Azerbaijan or Slovenia. We’re never in Moscow – we’re in a movie that needs a city that can cough up a hotel and an industrial setting, a city where things can blow up and people can shoot at you from a helicopter and no one pays it any attention.
Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down aren’t good DIE HARD movies because they take place in the White House; they’re good DIE HARD movies because they take place in a confined space where our heroes and villains can play chess for a couple hours while they try to kill one another. That’s a DIE HARD movie – the violent game of chess inside a defined space.
GOOD DAY isn’t defined and it isn’t chess. It’s just sprawling and loud and absurd.
What the first DIE HARD proved was that action scenes are not defined by how big they are, but simply how effectively they’re rendered. No one who has watched DIE HARD can forget McClane pulling that piece of glass out of his foot. Not having shoes, getting cut by stepping on glass … these are not the problems of a superhuman, but a regular dude. All of John’s humanity has been stripped here. John McClane has become superhuman, blessed with the ability to fall through floors and glass and garbage chutes and come out with nothing more damaging than a spot of blood here and there.
John McClane travels to Russia because his kid, Jack (Jai Courtney) is in jail. Except he’s not really in jail, he’s a spy. When the film eventually allows John and Jack to talk about this, we get some good, old fashioned Bruce Willis attitude. It’s such a great thing to see that Willis is able to slip back into this character. All of the pointless action might be made by cookie cutter, but John McClane, in the quiet moments, is still unique and fascinating.
There’s a plot that happens here but it’s stupid and exists just to give father and son a parade of bad guys to shoot. GOOD DAY is barely 90 minutes long and it’s the epitome of a few action sequences stitched together by minimalist character moments. It’s a cash grab of the worst kind, and if 20th Century Fox isn’t going to give the franchise to talented people to carry on, they might as well let the franchise drop from a really high height in really slow motion.