Now available on DVD, “A Good Day to Die Hard” disappoints those of us who are, um, diehard “Die Hard” fans. As the series reaches its 25th anniversary, it’s time to start thinking about giving it — and us — a merciful rest. Its immediate predecessor, “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007) had some of the wit and ingenuity that have usually characterized these action flicks. A sidekick, supplied in that one by young Justin Long, and a suitably nasty villain (in the sneering person of Timothy Olyphant) have been staples of the series; both character types turn up missing here. Instead of being cleverly inventive, the present number is derivative and cliché.
As NYC cop John McClane, Bruce Willis looks every minute of his nearly-58 years. Oh, he tucks it up bravely enough for the Big Shootout scenes, but his delivery of the throwaway witticisms that have enlivened the previous proceedings looks tired. And since the stolid Jai Courtney, as his son, Jack, suffers badly from charisma deficit disorder, the interplay of the two leads is anything but playful. The last hope for good dialogue, an articulate bad guy, disappears; instead, we get a carrot-munching, tap-dancing thug whose sole purpose seems to be to muff his assignments.
A teasing reminder of past glories appears early on as McClane, on “vacation” in Moscow to try to free Jack from the Russian criminal system, strikes up a conversation with a cabbie (Pasha D. Lynchnikoff) who likes to imitate Sinatra singing “New York, New York.” Surely, we hope he will turn up later, perhaps in the inevitable Hugely Destructive Car Chase through the crowded streets of Moscow. Alas, our desires are dashed again, as the McClanes do all the driving, though John, at least, has never been there and is badly overmatched in his choice of vehicle.
I have put off discussing the plot until now in trying to imitate the movie, which waits until the first hour has passed before giving us any idea why these people are here and what the stakes are. They seem to concern “uranium, nukes, and WMDs”; however, in McClane’s signature formulation, it’s always about the money. There’s some prolonged muddle about Russian political graft and payback, with the vague threat of world domination somehow involved, but there are so many double and triple crosses that one loses track and has no desire to get back on it.
Director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods appear intent on securing the producers’ investment by appealing to the international audience, which doesn’t need a lot of clever verbal byplay. So they keep the fireworks coming: lots of bombings, shootings, strafing, beatings — you name it, it turns up here. They forget to string them together by coherent editing, though, and we are often as lost as the characters frequently are. Apparently following the McClane motto of making something up as they go along, the filmmakers run out of ideas and revert to formula.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” is rated “R” for violence and language (no time for sex amidst all the killing). A newish Rolling Stones song plays under the end credits: if you can wait through the dreary movie leading to it, good for you. Or you could save the price of a rental and apply it to buying the music. Yippee kay yay!