1 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
In this brave new world, even a meditation on healing the rift between workaholic dad and wayward son is apt excuse for Hollywood to let loose yet another raucous raft of violence. Meant for mass consumption at the multiplex by undiscerning youths with nothing better to do, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is the Saturday night special of films.
One imagines the assigned writer and director seated in Danish couches, picture window overlooking the Pacific at Malibu, lattes emptied and chopsticks propped out of Chinese food containers as they muse, “How can I kill thee, let me count the ways?” Yes, there’s a formula, but one must mix it up. Someone in the theatre may be paying attention.
Unimportant as entertainment, or, I shudder to mention, as art, it’s vital as a barometer of our culture. While definitely not as flagrantly evil as the old biddies of the Concerned Citizens Committee may fear, it certainly isn’t a good sign. And adding insult to injury, even within its seedy genre this Bruce Willis-starring bottom-feeder is but an also ran.
Ten minutes in, as the assault weapons insolently reaffirm all good men’s convictions, I contemplate the insane waste of time and the eschewing of all such movies from my reviewing schedule. But then, good or bad, this is mainstream Americana. Perhaps this won’t inspire copycat horror. Maybe it’s the surprising exception that proves the rule.
But alas, it is not. And worse yet, Bruce Willis, that chiding, seemingly good natured wag who has heretofore lent about as much class as is possible to this nihilistic sort of bedlam, can’t seem to give this one his all. Indeed, like all of us, he is getting older, and about the only stunt he manages here is to hit his mark in front of the blue screen.
So, it’s too bad that said imagined filmmaking team, for all the General Tso’s chicken they imbibed, couldn’t think of some wittier repartee for Willis’s veteran NYC cop and his errant offspring, portrayed in neither here nor there fashion by Jai Courtney. There is a slight resemblance. But otherwise, the fictitious relationship feels entirely conjured.
Oh, and they sort of share a first name. Our action icon, who inaugurated the franchise in 1988 with “Die Hard,” is Officer John McClane. Sonny boy goes by Jack, even though he’s a junior. He refers to his pop as John. While it was affectionately cute that Scout called her daddy Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), here it’s meant disdainfully.
What’s a dad to do? Poor John figured all that nonstop work was good. Well, at least he doesn’t blame the teachers for not being the parent he wasn’t. It’s too late to send the kid to military school. You see, when Dad gets to Russia where the rebellious offspring is in some sort of imbroglio, he finds out the kid is in the CIA. Yep, a chip off the old block.
What then results as they team by default to rid the world of yet one more nuclear weapons blackmailer, is as acceptable a bit of father-son bonding as non touchy-feely sensibilities will allow. John, Sr. tries to win over his heir with heroics while the prodigy matches each bit of derring-do, turning their reunion into a high stakes spitting contest.
Once the pattern is set, they repetitively drill and drone through the mediocre twists and turns that fail to give the hackneyed story of deceit, greed and sadism any significant nuance. While there’s action aplenty as all manner of kinetic energy is put on display, the conveyor belt predictability is dulling. Only the sheer volume of noise keeps you awake.
OK, we’re forgiving of the fact that Mr. Willis’s exertion hardly exceeds running in place. He already gave at the office. And we couldn’t care less about the kid. Who is he, anyway? It’s just that the editing hardly attempts to make it look as if old Bruce is even elevating his heartbeat. Hey, a $9 movie ticket deserves at least some fake sweat.
More disconcerting, however, is the director’s inability to imbue the doings with a steady personality. Either unconcerned, or simply unable to blend the supposedly serious stuff with the tongue-in-cheek, he might as well be telling us his movie just wasn’t worth that kind of effort. Or, as the current, dismissively ineffectual idiom goes, it is what it is.
All of which doesn’t amount to very much…a mere bag of shells, as Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden would say. Nevertheless, harking back to this review’s rambling preamble, you can’t witness this shard of jagged diversion without hoping that the future of popular culture holds a little more promise than “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
“A Good Day to Die Hard,” rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by John Moore and stars Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch. Running time: 97 minutes