BR: Good Day to Die Hard, A (2013)

June 13, 2013 | By

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Film: Weak/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Twentieth Century-Fox / Region: A / Released: June 4, 2013

Genre: Action

Synopsis: Detective John McLane travels to Russia to rescue his son, John Gennaro, after being arrested for attempted murder. Much flying shrapnel and mangled automobiles ensues.

Special Features:  Disc 1: Optional Theatrical & Extended Cut / Audio commentary by Director John Moore and First Assistant Director Mark Cotone / Deleted Scenes / Featurettes: Making it Hard to Die + Anatomy of a Car Chase + Two of a Kind + Back in Action + The New Face of Evil + Pre-vis -VFX Sequences + Storyboards + Concept Art Gallery – Maximum McClane

Disc 2: Digital Copy

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Review:

The fifth and likely final entry in Fox’ sometimes spastic Die Hard franchise – it took 12 years to convince Bruce Willis to make a fourth entry, and another 6 for this cinematic blessing to arrive – is also the shortest and most lazily conceived effort, written by a hack, and directed by filmmaker whose C.V. suggests he’s obsessed with remaking and launching new entries in Fox’ pre-existing back catalogue.

John Moore’s career is built on the unnecessary, and as glossy and beautifully produced as Flight of the Phoenix (2004) and The Omen (2006) are, neither film has any reason to exist, and pales under the shadows of the original works. Moore’s approach to DH5 is simply to create absolute machine carnage, and he succeeds brilliantly in staging one spectacular car chase using a perfect mix of real and digital effects. Perhaps taking cues from H.B. Halicki (Gone in 60 Seconds), the level of cars, trucks, and concrete traffic fixtures that are smashed, pummeled, smooshed, and shredded is amazing, but unlike the visual elegance of Omen, Moore’s stylistic choice for DH5 was to keep cameras in shakycam mode, zooming in and out within shots, and keep the editing fast and furious.

To his credit, unlike the similarly constructed (but less damaging) car chase in The Bourne Supremacy (2004), there is visual coherence, and the editing is fairly solid in each of DH5’s action sequences, but the floating, shaking, blurry shots that make up his montages are at least 20 years out of date: no one bothers with the NYPD Blue style anymore, and there’s no reason whatsoever to bring back a loping camera that evokes an edgy documentary, but is really just a tattered voguish affectation long tossed aside by commercial filmmakers. Unlike the chase sequence in Bourne, Moscow still looks like Moscow, but the zooms serve no purpose when they make the city resemble a slightly exotic American metopolis that’s been digitally Euro-fied.

Moore handles all of the action sequences with similar shakycam vigor, but they do maintain a high energy of visual and aural carnage expected by action fans, especially the gunfight between the two united McClanes and a giant Russian helicopter in the finale. Marco Beltrami’s music is the lone standing success from this dud, and ranks as one of the best action scores in recent years, with sly references to Michael Kamen’s prior DH scores, and a bit of Beethoven.

No amount of money shots can help a film lacking a coherent script, and whether it occurred during the (re)writing stages, or scenes were severely shorn to their bare essentials, Skip Woods’ script is absolute rubbish. Hinged around some feeble plot in which John McClane Sr. ‘takes a vacation’ to Moscow to rescue son John, Jr. (a character never mentioned in any of the prior films) during a media-saturated murder trial, dad (a really bored-looking Willis) helps angry junior (a really banal Jai Courtney) and a duplicitous mafia kingpin (wasted Sebastian Koch) during an elaborate escape pre-arranged by the C.I.A. to gain access to a file whose contents will end the reign of a Putinesque despot.

With that MacGuffin, Woods has the good guys being chased by another level of bad guys who may or may not be allied to Russia’s corrupt leader, and eventually the two forces butt heads in Chernobyl where a stash of weapons grade uranium lies waiting.

Woods’ script is filled with lapses in logic: in spite of the heavy media coverage (including the BBC and CNN) during the film’s trial sequence, McLane Jr. and his freed kingpin are able to walk, stand, and shop throughout Moscow with no police in sight; later on, McLane Sr. acquires keys to a parked sedan with no explanation beyond ‘I stole it’; and neither villains nor heroes seem worried about long-term exposure to existing radiation in and around the Chernobyl region. To show extra toughness, a Russian thug walks around shirtless outside of the building housing the uranium cache, and both McLanes splash into and clearly ingest radioactive bilge water from a fetid swimming pool, yet fly back to the U.S. with neither ill health effects, nor any concern they may have contaminated other people or objects during their trip home.

Woods (and / or perhaps Moore and Willis) thinks he’s being clever with little homages to the original film, but they make DH5 feel like a pastiche: like DH 1, 3, and 4, the finale involves theft of valuable materials (bearer bonds, gold, and financial data, respectively) from vaulted locations; like the swing-from-above-and-crash-through-a-plate-glass-window in DH1, John Sr. has a key moment when he proves his James Bond / cartoon mettle by swinging from a downing helicopter into the derelict bank sans busted bones and shredded epidermis; and almost identical to Hans Gruber’s demise in DH1, the wide-eyed villain tumbles in slo-mo from the camera to his death in the finale.

There is a sense the filmmakers wanted to create a neat wrap-up with sly in-jokes, but the utter lack of any character development makes it all for naught. Director Moore also reveals his eye is purely on carnage: as seen in the trailer, sultry villainess Irina (Yuliya Snigir) unzips a black motorcycle jumpsuit, but he cuts away from any further risqué footage – a wide shot, or any scene continuation – and goes back to car smashing because any moments of sexuality within hisvision of an action are strangely irelevant. He similarly shows no interest in building characterizations, and leaves it up to the actors to bring energy to dead dialogue scenes, which is probably why there’s a thug munching on a raw carrot – an idea whose obliqueness likely stems from the actor having seen the carrot-chewing villain in Michael Davis’ superior live-action cartoon Shoot ‘Em Up (2007).

DH5 does offer some stellar action sequences, but as an installment in the DH franchise, this dud is an insult – especially to DH fans. All of Fox’ money went into pyrotechnics, and the wit and essence of what should have been a salute to a legendary franchise in a properly developed script lies exclusively in the 1 minute teaser trailer. Not good at all.

Fox’ Blu-ray features a nice transfer with robust sound design, and the usual package of trailers, making-of featurettes and deleted scenes (most of which are trims or extensions of feeble character moments), and two unused variants of the lackluster title sequence (with sterile credit animation that actually distract from an otherwise tightly edited montage).

The BR also features a longer unrated cut, but it’s been sloppily buried in the menu system: rather than immediately ask viewers which version to play (or have a separately indexed version index), the longer version with more profanity and violence details is buried in the Setup menu; the default version is the shorter theatrical cut. The plus side is that if you want more ‘fucks,’ that version is on the same disc via the BR’s seamless branching – the unrated ‘fuck’ edition of DH4 was only available on Fox’ DVD – but it should’ve been put up front since the longer, naughtier version is the thing that’s supposed to sell one of 2013’s biggest disappointments, and is blatantly plastered on the disc’s artwork.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack Review —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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