Tuesday night, while the president was giving the State of the Union address, our good friend John McClane was checking in on the state of the former Soviet Union in a preview screening of "A Good Day to Die Hard."
It's been 25 years since McClane scuttled the plans of a band of Euro-baddies in the action hit "Die Hard." While it's always nice to see Bruce Willis, this fifth installment of a franchise that got its start when Ronald Reagan was president -- a point the movie winks at -- is an explosive, high-capacity-clip letdown.
Presidents have changed, but McClane is still having family issues. Grown son Jack (Jai Courtney) has gotten himself into some deep water in Russia, having shot a man in a Moscow club. McClane learns his estranged boy is about to stand trial and rushes off to Russia.
Turns out the apple didn't roll far from the tree. The kid's not a screw-up but a CIA agent working on freeing a government whistleblower, and Dad's bull-headed timing and desire to connect scuttles the clandestine operation.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" has plenty of twists, one faintly surprising. But for the most part, this is a father-son fixer-upper. Dad wasn't around. Son's turned his resentment into a lethal skill set.
Sebastian Koch gives a soulful heft to Yuri Komarov, the whistleblower who plans to bring down Chagarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), his former partner in crime who's angling for political heights. Komarov's only demand is that the CIA also protect his daughter, Irina (Yulia Snigir).
Shot in Moscow (and Budapest), "A Good Day to Die Hard" has a fetching abundance of aerial views of the vast Russian capital. Directed by Irishman John Moore and cobbled together by screenwriter Skip Woods, the film looks more stylish than it has a right to. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela has given his grays that foreboding greenish hue.
What started out with hints of director Paul Greenglass' "Bourne Ultimatum" and a touch of Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" gives way to a gussied-up remnant. In a promising early bit, McClane gets a ride from a taxi driver (Sha D. Lychnikoff) who proves the universal language of cabbies is chatter. But "A Good Day to Die Hard" never achieves a balance between blast and Willis' gift for quips.
Marco Beltrami (who's done better) composed a score that is standard-issue action: insistent to the point of flat-out pushy.
And we should. Chernobyl figures in. So does weapons-grade uranium.
The cop-versus-operative, street-smart versus spy-craft notion could have been richer, but the writer puts Junior at a ridiculous disadvantage. And Courtney, all furrowed brow and set mouth, doesn't get to have much fun. And this live-action cartoon franchise started out as fun.
Although the movie makes minor sport of McClane's age, for a supremely better take on the notion of aging law enforcers, rent "Red" in which Willis portrays a retired CIA operative. Or better, stream "Looper" where the still-appealing star plays a figure of a sort to his younger self.
2 OF 4 STARS