When Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0) came out in 2007, it was considered to be an intelligent extension of a franchise which had been dormant for 12 years. Pairing the ageing Bruce Willis up with a young Justin Long would help bring in the teens. After battling wits with bad guys played by the likes of Franco Nero, Jeremy Irons and Alan Rickman in the previous 3 films, the 4th edition had a younger adversary in Timothy Oliphaunt, which felt appropriate for the new century. Heck, they even covered the Asian demographic by roping in Maggie Q.
Each action franchise, be it Bond, Mission: Impossible or Rambo has a core DNA and successive directors need to stay true to it, while also bringing something fresh and contemporary to the sequels. For me, Die Hard movies are about cat-and-mouse games, where the good guy wins through a combination of wits, street smarts and good-old fashioned American ‘can do’ spirit (Yippee ki-yay, m#$%f@*$!). Whether it was inside a high-tech high-rise or in a snowbound airport or above and below the streets of Manhattan, John McClane would find a way to outwit the bad guys, in spite of their greater numbers, technological superiority and advanced planning. In Die Hard 4.0, this approach was updated and McClane had to deal with a cyber-terrorist, which is why he needed the assistant of a young hacker.
With the latest entry in the franchise A Good Day to Die Hard, the producers seem to have lost the plot…literally! This is not surprising when you look at the folks in charge:-
Screenwriter Skip Woods destroyed the X-Men franchise with the screenplay for X-Men Origins: Wolverine; other efforts like Swordfish and A-Team haven’t exactly featured in the lists of great scripts either. The intellectual interplay is completely missing and has been replaced by a generic action film.
Editor Dan Zimmerman is the son of Oscar-nominated editor Don Zimmerman and he has actually assisted his father in editing some of the great comedies like Galaxy Quest, The Nutty Professor and Liar Liar – movies where the entertainment came as much from the timing as the performances. But Zimmerman jr. does a poor job in this movie; it has the shortest running time in the franchise at 97 minutes, but honestly, a few additional minutes added in to better explain what the hell is going on during that car/ truck chase sequence would not have been amiss. The main purpose of the scene seems to be to destroy as many cars from as many different angles as possible; the car-smashing is intercut with close-up shots of the various participants in the chase, with no apparent link between one cut and the next, or no explanation of who is chasing whom.
Director John Moore is best described as a ‘director-for-hire’, someone who can do a reasonable job of making genre films without imprinting any personal stamp on it whatsoever. I think of him as a watered down version of action director Simon West. At least Mr. West gave us Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Con Air and The General’s Daughter in the early part of his career. John Moore has given us Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix, Max Payne and now this…yup, that’s pretty watered down. So far, his films have come in at relatively low budgets, so the studios still made some kind of profit, but I have a feeling that this one has broken the bank.
I can forgive Bruce Willis for acting in this bomb, only because he also continues to appear in smart scifi thrillers (Looper, Twelve Monkeys), quirky comedies (Moonrise Kingdom, The Whole Nine Yards) and all-time classic genre bending films (Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense). If you have a free afternoon, you may be better off watching other ageing action stars like Arnold in The Last Stand or Sly Stallone in Bullet to the Head or perhaps all of them together in Expendables 2, but stay away from this one.