By Oliver Gettell
5:54 PM CST, February 15, 2013
Following in the footsteps of fellow senior action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Last Stand") and Sylvester Stallone ("Bullet to the Head"), Bruce Willis is back with a new shoot-'em-up of his own, reprising his role as the wisecracking New York City cop John McClane in "A Good Day to Die Hard."
The film finds McClane traveling to Moscow and teaming up with his son (played by Jai Courtney) to thwart a terrorist plot. Many movie critics, however, feel it wasn't worth bringing McClane out of retirement.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "it's not surprising that 'A Good Day to Die Hard' plays like an extended victory lap for star Bruce Willis and the entire 'Die Hard' franchise. Not surprising, but not overwhelmingly entertaining either." He adds, "Hardware is one thing but inspiration is something else, and in that area 'A Good Day to Die Hard' comes up short." Willis' "pro-forma" performance doesn't help matters.
USA Today's Claudia Puig calls the film a "violent tale of macho father-son bonding" that is "obnoxious, over the top and often dull." Unlike the 2010 ensemble action movie "The Expendables" (which starred Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger), "humor here isn't cheeky fun. The jokes are repetitive and mostly unfunny." The highlight of the film, Puig says, is an extended car chase through the streets of Moscow in the first half, after which the excitement falls off.
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post doesn't buy the family-bonding angle. She writes, "Supposedly a study in father-son psychodrama, 'A Good Day to Die Hard' delves into John and Jack's relationship just enough to provide support for the action it's a delivery system for — much like the layers of scaffolding the two fall through in one of the film’s repetitive, frantically filmed set pieces." She adds, "None of it makes any sense," although the brief running time and lack of self-seriousness make the film "slightly more enjoyable than recent offerings from Willis’s contemporaries Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger."
NPR's Ian Buckwalter agrees that "plot is incidental to this franchise nowadays, and the needless convolutions of this particular story seem largely like mere ploys to make it seem more interesting than it is." He continues: "Suffice it to say, things start exploding right before the trial, and pretty much keep exploding, in more and more ludicrous ways, right up to the end of the movie." Buckwalter goes on to call "A Good Day to Die Hard" the worst film of the series and says, "There's little left of the qualities that made the original 'Die Hard' such a masterpiece — or even the things that made the substandard sequels marginally watchable. "
The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern likewise has bad news for "Die Hard" fans. "For anyone who remembers the 'Die Hard' adventures at their vital and exciting best," he writes, "this film feels like a near-death experience." He adds, "all you need to know is that the car chases are visual gibberish, most of the 97-minute running time is devoted to people shooting at one another, the magazines on their assault weapons contain thousands of rounds, Mr. Courtney's charms range from undetectable to nil and the movie, directed by John Moore, plays on the theme of father-and-son reconciliation with the finesse of a primate taught to play 'Chopsticks.'"
In one of the rare positive reviews, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star says the film gives "a reason to see Bruce Willis and his tattered white T-shirt save the world yet again." This "Die Hard" installment "finds its heartbeat" in the father-son dynamic. "Willis and Courtney make a strong match," Howell writes, "believable both as fractious family members and also as sarcastic adversaries forced by circumstances to work together."
McClane, to his credit, has always been a resilient guy. Time will tell if he can handle the rough reviews.