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A Good Day to Die Hard

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'A Good Day to Die Hard' should stay dead
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

By the time Bruce Willis, playing John McClane, gets around to muttering his signature "Die Hard" line, the modernized cowboy call of "Yippee-kay-ay" spruced up with a 12-letter profane epithet, he might as well be expressing a sentiment from a different franchise, that is, Danny Glover's "Lethal Weapon" plaint, "I'm getting too old for this s---."

It's not Willis' fault. At least not entirely. Throughout this movie, the fifth and the worst installment in the "Die Hard" franchise, he comports himself professionally if not in an inspired way. He's in good shape. But he's failed by pretty much everyone behind the cameras, and much of his supporting cast, too. In this movie, still-tough-as-nails NYPD guy McClane embarks on a trip to Russia, ostensibly to rescue his black-sheep son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who's going on trial in Moscow for murder. No sooner is McClane trading enervated Sinatra-centric banter with a Russian cabbie than stuff starts blowing up real good, and McClane is ducking shrapnel and flying bullets while protesting, to no one in particular, "I'm on vacation." But he's not on vacation -- he went to Russia to fetch his black-sheep son. Doesn't matter. Some executive thought it would be funny for him to do that. It's not, particularly.

Bing: More about Bruce Willis | More on Jai Courtney

And of course the son's not a black sheep, either; he's working deep cover for the CIA, and his pushy dad is screwing up his mission. Said mission involves a "political prisoner" (Sebastian Koch) who's supposedly got major dirt on the new Russian defense minister, his hot evil daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir), a character so one-dimensional she might as well have just been named "Hot Evil Daughter," and Alik (Rasha Bukvic) a carrot-and-scenery-chewing killer who talks too much even by bad action movie villain-who-talks-too-much standards.

The movie offers up all the physical and simulated physical mayhem that money can buy, and none of the imagination. "I'm not done talking to you," McClane "comically" grouses in the middle of a car chase, talking to literally no one and nothing, if the shots framing this exclamation are to be believed. When the movie is not bludgeoning you over the head with the pyrotechnics, it's actively insulting your intelligence, as when McClane and son make the 12-hour drive from Moscow to the Ukraine in the space of an evening. The movie actually perks up just a bit when the action moves to an abandoned power plant of some reputation, and the post-nuclear-meltdown-dystopian production design creates a certain sense of action movie novelty. "What's this remind you of?" McClane asks in the wreckage. "Newark," he answers himself. Film nuts might see a slight resemblance to the Russian classic "Stalker." But anyway ...

Courtney, who was last seen trying to become the B-movie version of Ryan Phillippe in "Jack Reacher," doesn't do much meaningful résumé-boosting here either. Nobody benefits from the half-hearted interstices in which McClanes junior and senior try to repair the relationship that was only concocted for the sake of a money-grubbing sequel. The movie earns its second star here because I'm a Bruce Willis fan and could watch him in pretty much anything and get some enjoyment out of it (although, to be honest, I have not revisited "Perfect Stranger" or "The Color of Night" recently), but seriously. Unless someone comes in to pump some actual juice into it, the "Die Hard" series ought to stay dead.

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Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.
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