“I’m on vacation,” Bruce Willis grumbles several times throughout A Good Day to Die Hard, with the grunt of a man who doesn’t want to be there because, you know, his character really doesn’t want to be there.
In every Die Hard movie (this is the fifth) Willis plays John McClane, a humourless cop whose off-the-clock activities (such as enjoying his wife’s office Christmas party in the first installment and nursing a hangover in the third) are inevitably gatecrashed, usually by bad guys with thick accents and diabolical plans.
This “I don’t want to be here” shtick isn’t limited to Willis’ characterisation of McClane. It applies to virtually every character the 58-year-old professional blank canvas has ever brought to the screen.
The first major indication there is something amiss in the writing department of A Good Die to Day Hard is the hollowness of that line: “I’m on vacation.” The problem isn’t Willis’ stoic delivery; it’s the screenplay.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but McClane isn’t on vacation. The story begins when his daughter convinces him to fly to Moscow to look for his renegade son, who, it turns out, has been busy cashing in on the spy trade. McClane and McClane Jnr (Jai Courtney) spend two butt numbing hours trampling across the Russian capital, tearing it apart with car crashes, explosions and heavy-handed “father and son reconnect” dynamic, which does more damage to the senses than any of the shattered glass and rolled vehicles.
It would have been easy for screenwriter Skip Woods to write in a beach scene depicting McClane, panama hat perched above Willis’ iconic bald head (still the golden egg of contemporary action cinema), lying about on a banana lounge, stirring a cocktail with a gigantic novelty umbrella and squinting at beach babes. He takes a call and bam: “I’m supposed to be on vacation.” But Woods didn’t bother to put in effort to make the line work. If he did, and it was removed from the finished product, director John Moore has another reason (there are several) to hang his head in shame.
That sense of complacency towards action movie tropes — the assumption a line like that will pan out OK because hey, you’ve heard this sort of thing before, so how hard can it be? — is felt throughout A Good Day to Die Hard, and not just in how it was written. Moore’s action sequences are insufferably dull, a metallic coloured mixer of guns, machinery and torsos cobbled together like sheets of iron rubbing up against each other. The reason Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) was such an effective second sequel was it worked damn hard to entertain, aesthetically and intellectually.
It’s hard to extrapolate emotion from Bruce Willis at the best of times, but John Moore doesn’t even appear to have woken him up for the shoot. It’s not McClane who went on vacation — it’s the director, the screenwriter and most of the cast.
“Yippee ki-yay” is one way to put it. “Whoopsie doo” is more like it.
A Good Day to Die Hard’s Australian theatrical release date: March 21, 2013.