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A Good Day to Die Hard is a rough night at the movies.

An American in Moscow

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back!
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back!

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen was less than triumphant when The Last Stand was released last month. Sylvester Stallone’s new one, Bullet to the Head, was received by a boisterous chorus of crickets.

How will Bruce Willis fare with the latest Die Hard installment? Well, given the cachet of the film series, it might start with a bang, but the vacuum this movie leaves in movie theatres is sure to quickly squelch box office longevity.

Of the three, A Good Day to Die Hard offered the most promise of a rousing oversized action flick. It misses the mark. It’s big, brash Hollywood spectacle and completely, utterly soulless.

Taking a cue from the Taken movies, this one keeps it short (97 minutes) and doesn’t waste too much time on things like exposition. When it does, it’s distracted by things like a carrot-chomping thug. Yeah. That’s gotta be one of the stupidest affectations thrust upon a villain. He keeps munching on a mouthful of carrot between syllables. So annoying.

The movie also doesn’t waste much time on character development. For the sake of expedience, quickly turn it on like a faucet and maybe the character-parched audience won’t notice how lukewarm it feels.

The story, such as it is, finds John McClane (Bruce Willis, Sin City) throwing himself into Moscow to shoehorn himself into his son’s apparent downward spiral into the criminal underworld. The kid’s behind the barrel of an assassination and political intrigue. The kid, Jack (Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher), sports every bit of his old man’s brawn and also packs some culture Papa never adopted. Jack speaks fluent Russian and his English is passable.

When Cars Collide

The movie’s first hiccup comes early, as in shortly after the opening credits. John’s already flown out to Russia on the trail of his son, who’s imprisoned and standing trial. Rather miraculously – clumsily is more to the point – John is soon enough seen banging his hands on the hood of a truck being driven by Junior during his big prison break. Yeah. That’s how the McClanes roll. Things simply happen and happen simply.

What follows is a monumentally crazy car chase through downtown Moscow. Cue Marco Beltrami’s score. Cars collide, careen, fly, and do all sorts of unnatural stuff. It would be downright exciting to watch if it weren’t for a certain je n’ai sais quoi.

Actually, a very quick post-movie post mortem found the problem with the movie’s action. It’s mind-numbing instead of engaging and that is because the movie has absolutely no sense of pacing. Pacing is a key cornerstone to every great action movie and this one is like a gerbil on steroids that doesn’t know when to quit until it’s too late.

Director John Moore (The Omen 2006 remake) certainly has a healthy sense of style and this is a good movie on which to cut his huge-budget action movie teeth. He has potential, but he needs to learn that the great non-stop action movies really do know when to stop and when to cut to something else.

A Good Day to Die Hard is full of sloppy, silly action that’s designed to incite cheers but instead earns snickers. At one point John, while in the thick of the ridiculous downtown chase sequence, picks up his cell phone in order to assure his daughter all’s well and he’s just seen Jack – in the truck careening down the road right next to him. Surely this is the kind of stuff that reads like an action riot and laugh festival, but the end product is less so on both counts.

Chernobyl, not Grenoble

The political intrigue at the center of it all involves double- and triple-crossing partners and relatives, but instead of being an ornate babushka doll, it’s more like a Cabbage Patch Kid. Oddly repulsive and curiously attractive, the story leads the McClane boys to Chernobyl.

Okay. So the McClanes are hard to kill. Point taken. They make Indiana Jones look like a schoolboy. Understood. But, even though it’s technically safe to scurry around the infamous nuclear site for a tour, Jack and John do so in wife-beaters and leather jackets. It’s funny, but in a way that probably wasn’t intended.

As John points out too many times during the mayhem, he’s on vacation. Cut him a break. He’s chillin’ with his son and saving the world. That’s quite a bonding experience.

When the McClane boys return home, greeted by daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), they walk across the tarmac talking about something. Who knows what, but it seems suitably insignificant in light of the preceding 90 minutes. There’s no audio of their conversation, instead the music swells and the screen fades to black.

The commitment seems to be there to keep John McClane in action, but perhaps he should watch The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall in order to get a sense of how 21st century heroes elegantly, and relatively realistically, tackle the notion of their own mortality. Next time the McClanes should skip the vegetarian borscht and package up more substance in order to survive.