Bruce Willis (left) and Jai Courtney are plagued by a poor script in the latest Die Hard film. Photograph: Bloomberg
The worst moment in the latest Die Hard installment is not when Bruce Willis knocks out a bystander for being foreign. It’s not his hammy cries of “I’m on vacation” as he kills another fourscore commuters in an enormous explosion. It’s not the scientific inaccuracies or the stupefyingly improbable stunts, all of which we have come to expect from this all-guns-blazing franchise. The sight of a balding Bruce’s paunch peeping through a pensioner’s grey vest is depressing, but not unexpected.
No, the very lowest point in this depressingly disappointing film comes with a single clichéd shot. At the height of the film’s frenzied climax, a tattooed, Russian henchman runs topless through a radioactive zone, arms waving, gargantuan muscles rippling, guns blazing into thin air. It is neither explained why he is half-naked in Chernobyl nor how he survived the preceding set of fireballs. Presumably by ripping off his shirt.
The scene sums up the whole sorry affair. Where the first and greatest Die Hard was cheeky and offbeat, A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth entry in the series, is brash and blunt. The plot sees Bruce Willis’s maverick cop hero John McClane hot-tail it to Moscow when he hears his son Jack (Jai Courtney) is on trial, only to loiter outside the courtroom aimlessly. The ensuing 97 minutes are a shambolic series of wobbly handheld camera car chases as McClane and Junior re-bond while indiscrimately blasting their way through Moscow – which could be any city in the world. The only sense of place is felt when Willis plants his fist into the face of a passerby who has the audacity to warn him, in Russian, to stop running into oncoming traffic. “Do you think I understand a word you say? Jesus Christ!”
Apparently someone didn’t tell John McClane the Cold War ended. A quarter of a century after the first Die Hard saw him take on German hostage-takers, the premise rests again on baddie Europeans and their dastardly schemes – this time they’re on the trail of some Russian terrorists with a vague connection to uranium enrichment that only emerges in the last half an hour. But here, in place of sneering, peerless Alan Rickman, we have a witless Radivoje Bukvic who shows up eating a carrot. The trope feels worn.
Even more dated is the gung-ho dialogue, a terrible misstep by screenwriter Skip Woods: “Someone’s gotta stop him! Well, that’s what we do.”
“Perhaps you missed the part where I saved you from a whole bunch of Russian bad guys!”
“It’s not 1986, you know,” carrot-muncher jabbers at McClane at one point – an awkward truth. Even his ringtone sounds like it belongs in the early nineties.
Little relief comes from the female influence – Bondgirl-esque Irina (Yuliya Snigir) who appears wearing a white coat with nothing underneath but nude stockings and cheap shoes. Her (mildly Oedipal) relationship with father Komarov is a sloppy foil for McClane Junior and Senior, whose slow reconciliation comes between RPG fire and seven-storey falls. The major emotional suspense comes from waiting for Junior to call McClane “Dad”. Still, at barely 97 minutes, the film is like squeezing a pimple – painful, slimy, probably bad for you and best done in private but quickly over with.
The whole ensemble feels like an afterthought, rushed as if it were dreamt up, written and filmed in one scrambled day – one which would have been a fantastic day to put this sorry franchise finally to death.