A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
* * * stars
Opens today (see times below)
Supercop John McClane wants everybody to know he’s on vacation. So when he gets hit by a car or shot at by a helicopter or finds himself running from the fire of 10 machine guns, he screams at his attackers “I’m on vacation!”
There’s a lot of gunfire and crashing cars in A Good Day to Die Hard. Accordingly, McClane (Bruce Willis, of course) gets to shout his catch phrase a few times. He probably does it three times. It feels like 10.
McClane is in Moscow to get his estranged son out of a sticky situation with the Russian government. He’s not planning on hitting any gift shops, and his son—a CIA agent who’s got his whole situation figured out just fine, thank you—doesn’t even want him there. McClane’s refrain is confusing because he is not, in any sense, on vacation.
But he’s not going to utter a self-aware “Yippee-ki-yay” until the last act, and he’s got to say something snarky in the meantime, as he and his son jump from buildings and shoot up baddies, so “I’m on vacation” it is. This gives Willis and the movie a chance to announce that they’re not taking any of this very seriously. They know it’s the fifth movie in the series, they know that you think the only way this movie is going to be any good is if it’s transcendently terrible, and they are perfectly aware that there are better ways to spend your money.
But let’s not get carried away. From the way director John Moore opens onto a black screen with sounds of chaos to the first ludicrous cars-driving-over-cars car chase (which received numerous cheers at the screening I attended), to the burning inferno of the finale, there’s an idiot brute logic in the way this Die Hard gets through its admirably slender 97 minutes of deafening mayhem.
Chatter is kept to a minimum, and as the plot aims too big—reviving a Cold War-era disaster to propel the story into Major Significance—Moore’s direction maintains a simple precision, a clarity and immediacy that makes A Good Day to Die Hard seem almost visionary in context. I would venture to guess that this is one of the best fifth installment franchise movies ever made.