By now the Die Hard formula is so familiar that we can guess the mayhem before it happens. You see a hotel ballroom with fancy chandeliers and know it's going to rain glass soon. Scaffolding is constructed outside a tall building only to break free falls. And after each preposterous close call Bruce Willis mumbles something he said before.
The fifth edition of the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, is the brawniest and most brainless of the bunch. It is set in Russia for no particular reasons except tax breaks and the chance to invoke a 20th century relic besides Willis, that being Chernobyl. Thankfully for fans slow catching on, Russians ditch the subtitles and speak English to each other when the plot requires explaining stuff.
One Russian bad guy actually and unintentionally sums up the movie and its makers: "You guys, so arrogant. It's not 1986, you know." Or even 1988, when Die Hard was a fresh take on action flicks.
That doesn't prevent Willis as Det. John McClane from waging Lukewarm War on Russian terrorists who keep switching sides to pad the 97-minute running time. What is McClane doing in Moscow, you ask? Oh, just catching up with the son he had in the first Die Hard by the mother who hasn't shown up since the second, after reconciling with the daughter in the fourth.
Jack (Jai Courtney, kind of a Tom Hardy Lite) is sitting in jail after murdering a Russian mobster who, like the secret file everyone is looking for, doesn't matter in the long run. I'd call them MacGuffins but that would lend too much credit to screenwriter Skip Woods for thinking things through. Jack's crime gets him close to another vague mobster, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), with whom he escapes in a ludicrously long armored car chase.
John drops into the middle of the chase, surprising Jack and messing up his mission as a CIA operative. Dad never knew his estranged son was "the 007 of Plainfield, N.J." As a cliched rebellious son Jack resents the intrusion but there's nothing like a few gun battles to pull a family together again. An hour of explosive commotion passes before the truth about Komarov and his own willful daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) is revealed but don't worry, it'll change again.
All we really care about is how much collateral damage John and Jack can cause, and how high the body count will rise. Let's just say that the Blues Brothers would admire the vehicular destruction, Col. Kilgore from Apocalypse Now would understand the helicopter overkill, and every mortician in Moscow appreciates the business. A Good Day to Die Hard is one small step for detente, and a giant leap into bull hockey.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.