Is the title of the latest installment on the aging "Die Hard" franchise a wry comment on romantic entanglements?
"A Good Day to Die Hard" opens on Thursday, Valentine's Day, which suggests a certain sort of aggressive fatalism about the lover's holiday. The title's general opposition to the very idea of romance is confirmed by the movie, which lacks a love interest of any kind. This is an action movie that knows what it's about: two guys blowing stuff up.
That's a bit of a departure from previous installments in the "Die Hard" series, which focused mostly on one guy blowing stuff up. Oh sure, New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) had partners before -- Samuel L. Jackson in "Die Hard With A Vengeance," Justin Long in "Live Free or Die Hard" -- but they were around for comic sparring and an occasional plot twist. The explosions were strictly McClane's responsibility.
This time out, however, McClane turns much of that responsibility over to his long-estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney), a pistol-packing American spook caught up in some nasty business in Moscow which lands him in the country's court system alongside a controversial political figure named Komarov (Sebastian Koch). The elder McClane isn't aware of his son's occupation, so he travels to Russia to reconcile. Then the explosions start.
And for the next 90 minutes or so, they don't really stop. "A Good Day to Die Hard" mercifully doesn't allow for much down time. It's propulsive and perpetually noisy, punctuated by bursts of machine gun fire and shrieks of breaking glass. When the McClane boys step into a beautifully lit dining hall with giant windows, a stained glass ceiling, and massive chandeliers, you know it's only a matter of time before it's all a bullet-ridden wreck.
In that sense, at least, it's a movie that keeps the promises it makes to viewers: There's nothing so dull as a relationship or an idea, and nothing so complex as a plot that needs to be followed. Every 15 minutes or so there's a shootout or a car chase -- each of which appears to have been edited with a wood chipper -- and at the very end, John McClane dutifully mutters his famous catchphrase, which starts with "Yippee-ki-yay, " and ends with a word that doesn't belong in a family newspaper.
All of which is to say that it's an effective enough distraction machine for those seeking to avoid candlelit dinners, but it's also a bit of a disappointment in light of its franchise heritage. The original "Die Hard" was a masterpiece of action filmmaking, careful and methodical in the way it designed its set-piece spectacles. It cynically riffed on the corporate culture of the 1980s, with its terrorist villains who were really just capitalists, and even had something to say about the complexities of modern marriage, casting McClane as the blue-collar cop trying to reconcile with his high-powered executive wife.
You'll find nothing so human or tender in this perfunctory shoot'em-up. Valentine's Day may indeed be a good day to die hard, but compared to its progenitor, this installment really ought to have been called "Die Hardly."
TITLE: "A Good Day to Die Hard"
CREDITS: Directed by John Moore, screenplay by Skip Woods.
RATING: R for violence, language, foul-mouthed catchphrases
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS