Review: 'A Good Day to Die Hard'

Call me an idealist, but I'm a firm believer in the fundamental goodness of humanity. It's true that we live in an age of cynicism, but I say people generally treat each right, and civilization keeps humming along based on our mutual trust and affection. This worldview leads me to believe "A Good Day to Die Hard" was created almost entirely by robots. There is simply no chance an editor, director, or studio head previewed the final product and decided to release it into theaters. Any human who watched "A Good Day to Die Hard" could have only said, "My God, what have I done?" and scuttled the project forevermore.

No, it's clear that "A Good Day to Die Hard" was an early and crude attempt to see if artificial intelligence has improved enough to allow for a full-on CG edit. I don't mean special effects, we're not talking about CGI here, no I mean the entire film, after it was shot, was completely computer generated. The whole idea was likely a DARPA experiment, and one day we'll likely have robot nurses and companions that are the result of these early forays into sentient robot creation. "A Good Day to Die Hard" was an early sacrifice on the pillar of knowledge, because there's no chance they expected this movie to be received with anything other than disdain. My only slight concern is that they decided to ruin the "Die Hard" franchise as a result. Couldn't this have been done with a throwaway rom-com instead?

97 percent of "A Good Day to Die Hard" is set in Russia. The only other location is the airport, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) is being dropped off by his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He's on his way to Moscow to check in on his son, Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) and the criminally underused Winstead drives him to the airport to see him off. At this point we've been treated to a few scenes in Mother Russia that deal with some sort of coup or blackmail situation - really it's nearly impossible to tell because we've never met any of these characters. Nor are we made to care in the least about Russian politics, the C.I.A.'s involvement, or John's son. The film barely makes it 85 seconds before it's already in deep trouble.

Jack McClane seems to have gotten himself into an international incident, and poppa John steps in to make things much worse. This is entirely within the "Die Hard" franchise tradition, and so can't be dinged other than to say it feels forced. We're treated to a 15-minute car chase right from the get-go (remember that's one-sixth of the film), and to say this chase is idiotic is probably to give it too much emotional weight. Hating something requires real care and concern, whereas this plays out like a crow chasing an owl 1,000 yards away from you. You think, "Huh" and then go back to your morning jog or truffle harvest. It has no impact whatsoever other than "loud noises."

Then we're in for some twists! Unfortunately, this comes with a sort of logical chestnut, as in do you care about plot devices if the story doesn't make any sense, and isn't at all interesting? The answer is a resounding "no". "A Good Day to Die Hard" is impossible to care about, unless you're noting with malice how often John McClane exclaims, "I'm on vacation!" (the answer, for the record, is four). Of course, the most galling thing about this painfully recycled punchline is that he's not even on vacation - he's there to find his son. This is the very definition of a working weekend. He has a goal in mind and no plans to sip martinis, so clearly the robots have reared their ugly synthetic heads again, they've noted how action films sometimes have moments of levity interspersed into perilous scenes and figured they'd just repeat the same line over and over. Typical rookie robot mistake!

As the film progresses, there are more irrelevant action scenes and preposterous set-ups. The whole thing takes place in front of plate glass windows that are perched above swimming pools or other soft landings, so that Jack and John have some place to fall on or shoot through. It's the composite of an action film, with no soul or life force to guide it. Almost unfathomably, "A Good Day to Die Hard" decides to focus on the repairing of a father-son relationship, only the son was last seen in 1998, when he was just a boy. Really horrific homages to the previously great franchise are attempted, in a farcical effort to get you to pass off this film as "not that bad" based on your memories of the legitimate action films that came before it. The entire enterprise is a bewildering mess, put in place only to frustrate and alienate anyone who buys a ticket.

Every action scene is telegraphed, and most of the dialogue is irrevocably stupid. You needn't give up your hard-earned money to see this catastrophe of cinematic experimentation; you'd be better off mowing your lawn or watching the original "Die Hard" with friends instead. This version is a pit of despair, "Taken 2" meets an infectious disease, a shining example of what happens when you choose not to bother with quality and turn your product over to beings without a functioning consciousness.

Grade: D-

Laremy wrote the book on  film criticism and pretty much enjoyed the other "Die Hard" films.

Movie & TV Awards 2018