Saturday, February 16, 2013

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Directed by John Moore. 2013.

It's hard to get your head around the idea of nothing. How do you hold in your mind the idea of a pure lacking, an utter and infinite void? Is there even such a thing in conception or space?

At long last we have the answer to these conundrums in the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise. This, dear readers, is no partial lacking but nothingA Good Day to Die Hard is the absolute zero of movies. Let us count the nothing.

First, the script spends not a single moment or iota of effort on characterization. So devoid is this movie of any differentiation or development of the cast that one can but broadly refer to characters. There is no description of the characters by way of exposition or even cliche and we can't infer anything about them from what they do because all they do is shoot or get shot at. They don't joke or argue or explain or reveal themselves in any way, so there's nothing to lend context to what happens to them, and so we don't care when something does.

Falling right out of the gate, A Good Day to Die Hard fails to set up John McClane. He's not grizzled or fed up or scarred or driven or anything so specific. There are no references to his previous adventures and problems and he doesn't say or do anything in such a McLanesque way that we associate the man in front of us with the NYPD hero of the past. As a result of this lack, there's no interest or tension in his relationships either. That John's son has some vague problem with him is not tension. Distrust, indignation, fear. . . some emotion caused by an initial crisis and then recalled creates tension between characters. Centering Die Hard 5 around John and his son could have created a nice parallel with the first and fourth installments in which McClane rescued his wife and then his daughter, so they really dropped the ball here.

Second, the plot itself generates no tension. Obviously we're supposed to care that nuclear material might make its way into sinister hands, and first we do at an intellectual level, but there is no sense of urgency about the potential and indefinite point in the future when this material might make its way somewhere and be used somehow. We don't feel that something terrible is moments because the script presumes our fear instead of generating it by dialogue, activity, rhythm, and tone. Speaking of which. . .

Third, the pacing is way off. There is no sense of motion, no ebb and flow, and so there is no sense of departure and arrival, that is, purpose. A Good Day to Die Hard lacks the cues which tell us whether things are ramping up or calming down so we never have any expectations to be fulfilled or subverted. The movie's just one big smear.

Lastly, this movie has no tone. It doesn't have an inconsistent tone, mind you, but no tone. It's not light-hearted or serious, satirical or polemical, suspenseful or spectacular. As a result we don't feel that anything belongs or stands out, or that anything should or shouldn't happen. This lack of atmosphere robs from every element a sense of context, and thus impact. Similarly, just as the movie's parts don't fit together with respect to tone, neither do they exist in the same genre. You might think A Good Day to Die Hard  a buddy movie, but there's no interplay between the would-be buddies, and you might think it's a shoot-'em-up, but the shooting isn't centered around novel and compelling firefights, it's just guns going off. So its genre is action, aka, activity. Hooray for activity.

Still, A Good Day to Die Hard has two problems as a generic action flick.

First, the action scenes lack finesse, novelty, and variety, consisting mostly of Mercedes Benz crash test footage. The activity is coherent but so mundane and familiar that it quickly grows boring, especially the opening chase in which the Mercedes Benz van flees the Mercedes Benz truck which is pursued by the Mercedes Benz SUV. It turns out bashing cars on closed courses and blazing guns in concrete bunkers is not as exciting as watching John McClane shoot, punch, bomb, trap, and infuriate terrorists throughout the ducts, offices, elevator shafts, unfinished floors, and roof of Nakatomi Plaza.

Second, the action doesn't center around espionage or a heist or some political intrigue, but starts off as mission to rescue one guy, then shifts to a mission to rescue another, then to stop one guy, then another. Surely a movie may contain a variety of transitional goals, but without a sense of a broad, important purpose, surprises in slowly unraveling some mystery, or satisfaction in achieving transitional goals, the movie is just one thing after another. In contrast, the original Die Hard combined all three elements. There, John's main purpose was to stop the bad guys, the transitional goals were to get the police involved and take out the lower-level terrorists, and the mystery was what the bad guys wanted and planned to do. It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be something.

There's nothing–Hold on, I just remembered two things that happen in A Good Day to Die Hard: the bad guy eats a carrot and a Russian cabbie sings New York, New York. I stand corrected.

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