The invincible John McClane

Jaw-dropping action can't save A Good Day To Die Hard from its precarious storyline

Jaw-dropping action can't save A Good Day To Die Hard from its precarious storyline

It's been 25 years since Die Hard, labeled by many as the best action movie of all time, catapulted Bruce Willis from middling success on television to movie superstardom. Since that time, many films have tried, but few have come close to Die Hard's perfect combination of relatable hero, evil but charismatic villain, and knockout action scenes.

That includes, of course, the three Die Hard sequels. Even though none of them quite had the cachet of the original, all of them had individual merits, and all did well at the box office.

 Director John Moore may have some filmmaking faults, but directing action scenes is not one of them.

And so here we are with No. 5, A Good Day To Die Hard, in which John McClane (Bruce Willis), who may or may not still be a member of the NYPD, travels to Moscow to track down his ne'er-do-well son, Jack (Jai Courtney).

The only problem is Jack isn't actually a screw-up; he's a CIA agent tasked with helping an imprisoned Russian escape the machinations of his political rival. It all has something to do with nuclear weapons and money and blah blah blah, when do we get to the action?

Anybody who steps into the theater to watch A Good Day To Die Hard needs to check his sense of disbelief at the door, because things get way out of hand in a hurry. But I mean that in a good way.

Soon after John and Jack reunite, they engage in a jaw-dropping car chase based on the sheer number of cars that get destroyed in the process; it has to be in the hundreds. Naturally, all the main participants survive with barely a scratch, ready to move on to the next insane set piece.

Director John Moore may have some filmmaking faults, but directing action scenes is not one of them. Even when the story is boring or makes little sense, he snaps the audience back to attention by ratcheting up the intensity level. The fact that most, if not all, of the stunts are highly implausible strangely only makes them more compelling.

However, even the best action scenes can't make a film work if the story isn't up to snuff, and that's ultimately what happens here. The double crosses pile up on top of one another until the weight of them makes the precarious narrative tumble down. That only serves to underscore the lack of a compelling villain, something crucial for any good Die Hard movie.

As John McClane, the almost 57-year-old Willis gets by as much with his cockiness and wit as he does with his brawn. Much of what has made McClane an iconic character is Willis' ability to diffuse tension with a wry grin or a well-timed putdown, and Willis continues that tradition here. Courtney doesn't have nearly the same charm as the younger McClane, so it's difficult to see this as a passing of the torch.

This is the first time a Die Hard movie isn't being released during the summer, as good an indication as any that A Good Day To Die Hard doesn't measure up to the rest of the series. Even still, its ability to maintain momentum despite some flimsy storytelling shows that John McClane may well live another day to die hard.

A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis returns as Jack McClane for No. 5 in the Die Hard series. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis
A Good Day To Die Hard opens Valentine's Day. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis
A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis