By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Skippy-ki-yay this franchise milker. Bruce Willis’ fifth “Die Hard” outing as unstoppable New York cop John McClane is so dreary, badly directed and wrongheadedly dumb it sucks nearly all the life out of the 25-year-old series.
The fourth installment, 2007′s “Live Free or Die Hard,” took the franchise to cartoonishly jokey territory that was kind of fun despite its shortcomings (which included casting Kevin Smith in an acting role). The action there reached its outrageous apex when McClane won a faceoff between the truck he was driving and an attacking fighter jet.
While “A Good Day to Die Hard” includes a wildly destructive urban car chase, some lethal run-and-gun firefights and more than one instance of helicopter peril, the mood here is more bleakly grim than winkingly tongue-in-cheek. When Willis eventually delivers his trademark “yippee ki-yay” catchphrase, it sounds not only panderingly perfunctory but almost random, like a contractual duty that needed to be discharged.
Willis plays McClane with a weary here-we-go-again resignation that makes it hard to tell where the apparently bored actor leaves off and his sleepily exasperated character begins. McClane’s adult son Jack (Jai Courtney, last seen as one of the baddies in “Jack Reacher”) has been arrested in Russia as part of a CIA plot to grab a political prisoner with access to enriched uranium. Because McClane Sr. isn’t aware that his estranged son is a spook, much less that the younger McClane’s imprisonment is part of a covert-operations mission, he flies to Moscow hoping to spring his offspring.
Constantly constipated-looking Courtney plays Jack with tiresomely surly resentment. He’s so unamusingly miffed at his father for being a workaholic during Jack’s wonder years that he refuses to call him anything but John. When the elder McClane asks him, “Whatever happened to ‘dad?’” Jack coldly replies, “Good question.”
McClane Sr. briefly bonds with freed prisoner and fellow father Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who becomes a very hot property under the McClanes’ protection. The best scene featuring Komarov’s beautiful but dangerous daughter Irina (model/actress Yuliya Snigir) is one in which the wash from a helicopter’s rotors blows up her dress to reveal that she’s wearing stockings. Other than that, not much to see here.
The screenplay by Skip Woods (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “The A-Team”) has a few twists that are not enough to keep it from seeming generic and occasionally stupid. When the McClanes are captured and bound, killers who have been eagerly trigger-happy up to that point bafflingly don’t shoot them dead right away. Decontaminating a radioactive vault is as simple as spraying the area down. An attempt at intentional comic relief that falls completely flat involves a too-long conversation between McClane and a Russian cabbie.
Director John Moore (“Max Payne,” “Behind Enemy Lines”) has real problems shooting action scenes that make sense. A Moscow car chase in which vehicles are destroyed on a “Blues Brothers” scale is frustratingly incomprehensible. The McClanes endure enough vicious blows to the face, gunshots, savagely brutal beatdowns and high falls to make one wonder how they remain alive, much less keep fighting. Making things worse, the overall look of the film ranges from murky dark to a nauseating autoglass-green tinge.
Willis has said there will be a sixth “Die Hard,” but at this point it’s hard to believe this dead battery can be recharged. Following box-office bombs already this year from Arnold Schwarzenegger (“The Last Stand”) and Sylvester Stallone (“Bullet to the Head”), “A Good Day to Die Hard” looks like it may be one more trip to the tar pits for another action-hero dinosaur.