Review: It’s Not You, It’s ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’

There will come a moment for Die Hard fans during the just-released fifth movie in the franchise in which they will question the meaning of life.

“Gee,” they will think, “I’m sitting in a seat eating (popcorn/Goobers/Sour Gummy Worms) with my (buddy/kid/long-suffering girlfriend) and I’m watching Bruce Willis hang out of a helicopter in all sorts of delightfully impossible ways with slo-mo explosions happening in the background. And yet, I’m not having a good time. I’m not happy.”

And they will go home and read Kierkegaard.

Put down Philosophical Fragments, friends. The problem is with the movie, not yourselves.

The film opens not, as you might expect, with Willis’s John McClane merrily blowing away a ne’er-do-well or hightailing it out of some toasty firefight or even drowning his sorrows in a dive bar.

It opens with two dudes speaking Russian.

One dude seems to be in prison and the other dude wearing an expensive suit seems to be taunting him and even though there are subtitles, you have no idea what they’re saying. There seems to be some disagreement about a file. And then you check your ticket to  make sure you’re in A Good Day to Die Hard and not some Russian artsy movie that finds meaning in the great suffering of life.

And then this vaguely familiar face pops up and blows away some guy in a Russian nightclub.

Then – oh thank Heaven – Bruce Willis shows up. But he’s not shooting anyone. He doesn’t even have a gun. He’s having a moody conversation. He’s apparently looking for a kid, some kid, and his cop buddy in the NYPD has found this kid in Russia of all places and, lo and behold, he’s the dude who blew away the other dude in the Russian nightclub.

And oh my goodness, he’s McClane’s son. I didn’t know he had a son. Did you know he had a son?

Eat some sour gummy worms. Meditate how life throws curve-balls.

Well, it seems like forever, but soon McClane is in Russia seeking out his jailbird son when all sorts of mayhem breaks out. One of the Russian dudes is a witness in a trial and for some reason Junior is there too. Then there’s a massive explosion which kills everyone except Junior and the witness, and then a paramilitary invasion led by a presumably hot girl in a gas mask.

Like McClane, the audience watches all this with bafflement. Then – at last! Something we can understand! – the gang sets off on a merry chase sequence through the streets of Moscow. Junior and the Russian witness dude are being chased by the paramilitary dudes in a light armored truck who in turn are being chased by McClane in a stolen Range Rover.

And, let me tell you, the filmmakers used their armored truck to the utmost. It sends cabs twirling through the air, it barrels through concrete, it leaps off bridges. And maybe, just maybe, we can forget all the complexities of Russian dudes and just enjoy a chase.

Except, it’s all a bit too much. And as the various trucks are rolling over cars on the freeway, one begins to worry, just a little, about the children that may be strapped into the car under McClean’s Rover or the nice cabbie that got hurled through the air. In order to make this fun, we have to know that no one got hurt, right? A few shots of shaken drivers climbing out of smashed cars with a story to bring back to the wife, right?

But in this movie, it’s pretty clear there were casualties.

And so the tone is off. We’re trying to have fun, but it nags at you. As does the fact that when we meet McClane Junior (Jai Courtney), he’s ambushing and murdering someone in a Russian club. The audience starts with the impression he’s a bad guy.

When we’re suddenly asked to consider that he’s really a good guy, as all of the McClean family is required to be, by Die Hard law, it just doesn’t jive with the whole blowing away a guy in a nightclub thing.

But I digress because the most ridiculous part of the movie is Chernobyl. Yes, Chernobyl. Somehow, the file which (spoiler!) is never really explained, has to do with the meltdown of Chernobyl. Somehow, someone got greedy and this, again it’s not really clear, caused the meltdown of Chernobyl.What the greedy person got out of the result, besides deer with three eyes, isn’t clear.

And the whole gang decamps to the former town, merrily battling their way through a decaying power plant.

This actually could be a good concept. Creepy, crumbling, radioactive Soviet facilities are the perfect backdrop for a gunfight. But it’s done so sloppily and we’re so confused by that time that the audience has lost the will to do anything but turn down the lights and play Swedish music.

Don’t despair. If you love Die Hard, let the memory remain pristine. Remember it how it was. It’s better that way.

Rated R for violence and language. Sexuality, beyond shots of the hot chick’s legs, is absent. 

Review: Time Traveling ‘Looper’ is Well Worth the Trip

The problem with most time travel movies, as with time travel itself, is that we know exactly what is going to happen.

Not so in Looper, an exciting, fresh movie about the perils of time travel, especially when controlled by vast criminal networks.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a hitman for the mob sent back from the distant future to the closer future.

The film is set in 2042. With time travel invented and then outlawed, it has become the exclusive territory of a world-wide criminal gang who finds disposing of bodies to be too difficult in the future future of 2072, what with all the tracking devices and high-tech surveillance. They solve this quandary by sending assassins to live in the past future of 2042. The mob sends back a poor bum who crosses them the wrong way. Then the killer (or looper) shoots him and disposes of the body that doesn’t, technically, exist in this time plane of 2042. It’s a perfect crime.

You see, when time travel is outlawed, only outlaws have time travel.

The near future, and presumably the future future, is bleak. There’s no work, cars and homes are crumbling. Vagrants roam the countryside. In the bosom of the mob, though, it’s all good money and friendly working girls for Joe, a classic stoic noir hero in a decidedly sci-fi noir world.

That is, until he receives a target for execution named – wait for it – Joe (Bruce Willis). Yep. It’s older, balder himself.

His future self makes a break for freedom, determined to survive and ruin the good life for the current Joe.

It’s Joe versus Joe versus a very angry time-traveling criminal conspiracy.

Versus, well, that’s really all I can say, although the plot contains many more people, twists that don’t seem like twists, and a few truly creepy elements. Emily Blunt is involved in the later plot, in a role I can’t reveal. One of the delights of this film was that it did not telegraph where it was going. I was more surprised, pleasantly surprised, by the twists and turns of the plot than I have been in at least a year. I wouldn’t dream of ruining that for my readers, no matter how many other elements were waiting to be written about.

Another pleasure of the film was the fantastic script with some unexpectedly hilarious moments. Some of the best lines – again, which I won’t reveal – come from Jeff Daniels as Abe, the crime lord from the future future who has also been sent back to the past future. He runs the looper program with a resigned, worldly wisdom. Daniels gives a good performance, equal measures hilarious and menacing.

It was fun to see Bruce Willis step perfectly into the role of aged action hero. He shines, as does Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When Willis picks up a semi-automatic weapon and takes on a hallway of people who surely have it coming, you almost want to break out into a chorus of “Happy Days are Here Again!” The scene was probably unnecessary and written into the script just for Willis, but, let’s face it: If Bruce Willis leaving a trail of mayhem behind him is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Mayhem is definitely par for the course in this movie. The violence is gritty and gory, not quite Saving Private Ryan but also not cartoon violence of, say, your average comic book movie. If it were just the violence and fairly pervasive language, I’d give this R rated movie a go ahead for some teens, depending on family mores. But there is a highly unnecessary scene involving extended female toplessness. Although the movie does not display sex scenes, it does linger on Piper Perabo as a lady of the night who, apparently, is allergic to wearing shirts.

It’s too bad, too, because the rest of the movie is so much fun. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who also collaborated with Gordon-Levitt in the excellent movie Brick, this film is a rarity in a world of cookie-cutter blockbusters: An original concept, well-acted and well-produced.

It is the best movie I’ve seen since The Avengers back in May.