Old Habits: Die Hard's latest breaks new ground in incoherence and stupidity

Feb 14, 2013 at 4:00 am
John McClane (Bruce Willis), Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) and a Russian under their protection, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), take a fateful elevator ride.
John McClane (Bruce Willis), Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) and a Russian under their protection, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), take a fateful elevator ride. Frank Masi, SMPSP TM & © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Before anything else, here's how dumb things get in A Good Day for Die Hard–Related Media Product, which is being sold as a bang-bang movie sequel so that nobody catches onto its true nature: a black-ops experiment testing the human faculty for discovering coherent patterns in unrelated shards of image.

Late in the film, as their brains jigsaw director John Moore's shots into their own individual narratives, audiences might discern that the heroes have once again leapt from a building without first looking down. As happened in earlier scene, the heroes' fall is broken by a time-honored fall-breaking contrivance. The first time around they lucked into canvas awnings, construction scaffoldings, and a pile of trash. Now, at the climax, as a helicopter crashes around them, they splash into the cheapest cheat of all: a well-maintained swimming pool.

What makes this so risible is that the building they've jumped from is a long-abandoned military structure on the grounds of the Chernobyl nuclear plant — just the place for a refreshing dip. Welcome to Die Hard 5: You Thought Surviving a Nuke in a Fridge Was Stupid?

"Rainwater," one of the heroes mutters afterwards as way of explanation. That wouldn't help much even if the clamorous soundtrack didn't make the line so tough to catch. The movie also out-booms all the dialogue explaining why these men (or the men they've been shooting at) have come to Chernobyl in the first place.

One thing that is clear is that one of those heroes is purportedly "John McClane," a human male we've seen before. But time and indifferent scripting have streamlined him for nothing but brute, relentless motion, leaving us with an engine part we may as well just call Die Hard. He's embodied, again, by Bruce Willis. The other hero is Die Hard Jr. (Jai Courtney). Junior is a CIA agent who — if I have this straight — is sent undercover to Moscow to pretend to attempt to murder an oligarch in a nightclub so that he — Die Hard Jr. — can wind up testifying in the trial of a Russian political prisoner whom the CIA will bust out of a Moscow courtroom so that he — the political prisoner — can lead Die Hard Jr. to a very important file. Your interpretation of all this might vary from mine, as no two viewers will assemble the same narrative from this Rorschach of running men, crashing glass, and hollered exposition.

I do know that after an hour or so Die Hard Sr. asks, "What's on this file?" That's a good impulse, a quick flash of the old John McClane, who seemed to understand that the people he was shooting were actually people, and that the adventures he grinds through have something to do with saving lives. Other questions he might have asked: "How many dozens of Muscovites have I killed in this car chase?" "Why do all of the Russians I meet speak English, even to each other?" "Is it really a good idea to initiate the first father-son talk of Junior's adult life when we're pinned down by a barrage of automatic weapon fire?" "Back to that car chase — do Bond and Bourne ever have to worry about their directors making it impossible to tell who's driving which vehicles?"

At one point, Die Hard & Son are captured by an important Russian gangster or whatever. After the usual bounding and beating, the gangster (?) announces, in English, that he hates cowboys and that Ronald Reagan is dead. This inspires the movie's one human moment. Die Hard laughs in that old Bruce Willis way, the wiseass way of the Moonlighting guy who for a couple years made being a smug balding thirtyish harmonica-blowing Blues Brothers also-ran seem absolutely stone fucking cool. He laughs with just enough of the old charisma that we believe it when the villains pause and laugh a little too, and try to get him to let them in on the joke. Of course, this is a gambit — the machine acting like a person to buy a little time — and soon the heroes are once giving us rote shooting and bonding. Problem is, even this scene is all jagged cuts and shots that disorient rather than communicate any continuity of movement. The movie is constructed like a window some kid broke and then tried to glue back together.

110 years ago, the Edison Company scarified audiences with The Great Train Robbery's scene of a bandit firing his revolver directly into the camera — and seemingly into the crowd. The one original stroke of this least of all possible Die Hards echoes that. Early on, just after the interminable prologue cuts to black, we hear the firing of a gun. Bullet holes seem to tear into the screen, and we then we get our first glimpse Willis, whose character is practicing at a shooting range. This is a perverse choice after the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The only time in the entire movie we can actually discern what he's aiming at, it's at us.