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The fifth installment in the long-standing “Die Hard” fran­chise sees McClane trav­eling to Russia in search of his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney). What John doesn’t know, but quickly learns upon arriving, is that Jack is a CIA oper­ative entangled in an under­cover mission. A Russian sci­entist (Sebastian Koch), it seems, is to testify in a gov­ernment cor­ruption trial, but before he can do so he is kid­napped, rather explo­sively, by Russian ter­rorists. John McClane is dragged into the crisis, and must struggle to reconnect with his son while fighting off the Rus­sians.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” marks a major departure from the “Die Hard” series to date, in that it takes place on foreign soil.

Unfor­tu­nately, this detracts sig­nif­i­cantly from the tone of the film.

There was some­thing inher­ently sat­is­fying in watching McClane defend America, which is lacking here. The character’s derisive sense of humor, for example, feels oddly cruel when directed at a Russian passersby on the street. The writers, hoping perhaps to play off of Willis’ advancing age, choose instead to have McClane gripe about nearly every sit­u­ation he encounters — traffic jams, his son’s aloofness, CIA pro­tocols, etc. This attempt to maintain the humorous spirit of the series instead makes the char­acter come off as rather arrogant and unlikeable.

Much of the series’ trademark sus­pense is also lost because the audience is made aware of the ter­rorist crisis before John McClane becomes involved. Whereas pre­vious entries thrust McClane and the viewer straight into an ongoing emer­gency, “A Good Day” spends its first five minutes setting up the Russian char­acters and implying that the sci­entist will soon be kid­napped. The audience no longer makes these dis­cov­eries along with McClane, and the movie is less sus­penseful for it.

The film’s action sequences seem to have taken a page from some of the less-suc­cessful action films of recent years. After the ter­rorists destroy a cour­t­house and kidnap the sci­entist, the McClanes pursue them in a 15-minute car-chase scene which is both so dis­ori­enting as to be and frus­trating. Like the chase scene in last summer’s “The Bourne Legacy,” the film­makers employ shaky cameras, poor viewing angles and a lower frame-rate, which make the film choppy and dif­ficult to follow. While these tech­niques are often used to speed up action pieces and make them seem more imme­diate (used suc­cess­fully in “Glad­iator” combat scenes), when fea­tured for ten or fifteen minutes at a time they only give the audience a headache. Several exciting stunts and car tricks are lost in the shuffle. The film’s final set piece, a showdown at Cher­nobyl, scales down the camera gim­micks con­sid­erably, and as a result is very enjoyable. McClane’s iconic catch­phrase is back, too, and put to good use.

What dis­ap­pointed me most about “A Good Day,” however, was its char­ac­ter­i­zation of John McClane. In earlier install­ments, McClane was a regular cop who, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, was forced to make the best of an impos­sible sit­u­ation. Here, however, McClane is hardly afraid of any­thing, standing up in a room full of sniper fire (of which his allies are justly afraid) to per­sonally gun down every single enemy soldier. Yippee-Ki-Yikes.

It’s not my intent to judge “A Good Day” solely on the merits of its pre­de­cessors, but the truth is that the “Die Hard” fran­chise has set many of the stan­dards by which modern action films are judged, and it’s because they worked. Gone now is the sus­pense, the thrill of a homeland under attack, the imme­diate danger, and most impor­tantly, gone is the raffish cop who wise­cracked his way through the air vents of the Nakatomi Plaza Building. I miss him.

 

                                                                   pkistler@hillsdale.edu