A Good Day to Die Hard gives us a good reason to see Bruce Willis and his tattered white T-shirt save the world yet again, while grappling with daddy issues.
Valentine's Day may not seem like the most opportune moment to release the latest Die Hard yippee-ki-yay. Shouldn't Cupid's time be about cuddles and kisses rather than bullets and bravado?
Praise the love and pass the ammunition: there is wisdom behind this franchise folly, and a reason to see Bruce Willis and his tattered white T-shirt save the world yet again. The Die Hard series sells the lone wolf concept — Willis vs. global terrorists — yet deep down, it's really about family reunification. Good thing, too, because the violence gets old fast. The thump-thump-thump of the heart may be hard to discern behind the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire, but the love has always been there. Die Hards 1-3 sought to return cowboy cop John McClane to the shaky embrace of his wife (Bonnie Bedelia); the fourth film, Live Free or Die Hard, had McClane rescuing his adult daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Now comes chapter five, A Good Day to Die Hard. It moves the divorced and retired McClane to Moscow while reuniting him with his son Jack (Jai Courtney of TV's Spartacus: Blood and Sand). Jack was barely glimpsed as a child in 1988's original Die Hard, played by Noah Land, and hasn't been seen since.The years haven't been kind to father-son relations. Estranged from papa, Jack has nevertheless followed in his old man's footsteps doing beat-downs on bad guys, although he's more sleuth than cop. He's also in a heap of trouble, which includes trying to protect Russian whistleblower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) from the lethal vengeance of corrupt politician Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov).
Much to Jack's chagrin, John shows up uninvited in Russia and the mayhem really begins. John is barely off the plane before he's stealing cars, driving insanely and causing more damage to Moscow than the Blues Brothers did to Chicago. He's also vainly trying to reconnect with a son whom he now regrets ignoring for most of the past 25 years, when he was pounding the NYPD beat while also saving the planet. Jack isn't buying the contrition; he coldly addresses his father as simply "John."
Here's where A Good Day to Die Hard finds its heartbeat rather than just a quickened pulse. Waiting to hear whether Jack will once again call John "Dad" inspires more rooting interest than counting the bodies and bent metal piled high by director John Moore (Max Payne) and screenwriter Skip Woods (The A-Team).
The story gets increasingly messy, involving a hidden file of incriminating information (the movie's MacGuffin), a sexy woman (Yuliya Snigir) and a trip to nuke-ravaged Chernobyl, Hollywood's radioactively hot new trouble destination. (No, it's not ski haven Grenoble, as Jack impatiently tells John.) The visuals, alas, are a blur of flying bullets, squealing wheels and shattered glass. Moore goes in big for the shaky cam, ADD editing and lens flare that weakly substitute for action in today's movies. Fortunately, it hardly matters, because the personal dynamics are what really count.
Willis and Courtney make a strong match, believable both as fractious family members and also as sarcastic adversaries forced by circumstances to work together.
They're also funny. They humorously bond while one pulls a pesky bullet out of the other, and also while cocking their guns in an elevator to the Muzak strains of "The Girl from Ipanema" (although Sly and the Family Stone's "A Family Affair" would have been funnier).
There's also a potential for a drinking game: one shot for every time Willis angrily yells "I'm on vacation!" You can actually imagine these guys working together for a sixth Die Hard, which doesn't seem like such a terrible idea, especially if Mary Elizabeth Winstead returns for more than the cameo she has here. The family that yippee-ki-yays together, stays together.
2.5 stars. Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and Sebastian Koch. Directed by John Moore. 97 minutes.
nPeter Howell is a movie critic for thestar.com