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Review: Willis goes through the motions in 'A Good Day to Die Hard'

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT)
Bruce Willis stars as John McClane and Jai Courtney stars as Jack McClane in
Bruce Willis stars as John McClane and Jai Courtney stars as Jack McClane in "A Good Day to Die Hard."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bruce Willis is back for the latest installment in the "Die Hard" franchise
  • The film finds his character traveling to Moscow to find his son
  • Critic says it may be time to call it a day

Editor's note: This review may contain spoilers.

(CNN) -- Not your typical Valentine's Day release, "Die Hard"'s fifth is Hollywood's counterpunch to chocolates, roses and romance. It's an anti-date movie. Well, unless your date is also your dad.

Bruce Willis has been playing John McClane, off and on, for a quarter century now, and while he shows no inclination of throwing in the towel, it's hard to see much future for the geriatric action film he and his former Planet Hollywood cronies are peddling these days with "The Expendables." "A Good Day to Die Hard" is a more lavish demolition derby than "Bullet to the Head" or "The Last Stand," but it's also more slavish in its adherence to a formula that's all but spent. No one's heart seems to be in it, they're just going through the motions.

Why 'Die Hard' is the perfect Valentine's Day movie for guys

A New York cop who scarcely seems to spend any time in the Big Apple, McClane heads out to Moscow to bail out a deadbeat son, Jack, who I don't recall featuring in the earlier movies. Jai Courtney, from "Jack Reacher" and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," is what they call "fresh meat" and a more conventional action hero than Justin Long was in McClane's last escapade. But on this evidence McClane junior hasn't inherited any of his father's charisma or wry wit. Mostly he just looks put out, understandable as screenwriter Skip Woods makes sure senior always has the last word. Not that any of Willis' wisecracks are anything to write home about. That trademark smirk is stretched pretty thin.

It's only after Jack has bust out of his trial, dragging a political prisoner with him (Sebastian Koch) that John finds out his boy is with the CIA. By then the extraction is blown, and father and son have a rogue militia wing tearing up the streets gunning for them.

This is male bonding with a capital "B," but comparisons with the reinvigorated 007 series only show how far behind "Die Hard" has fallen. A lengthy chase on the Moscow ring road throws entire fleets of Russian commuters under the proverbial bus, but still feels like an inferior copy of a similar sequence in "Skyfall," while director John Moore ("Max Payne") defaults to the ADD editing style that's only good for disguising how thinly-imagined this show really is. Even a climactic showdown in Chernobyl, a potentially fascinating location for any movie, proves a damp squib. Moore gives us an abandoned industrial plant at night, and any radiation barely even registers as a factor (the McClanes don't need hazmat suits; they're indestructible).

If there's something crassly opportunistic about exploiting a real life disaster on the scale of Chernobyl for cheap thrills, that's part and parcel of the film's cynicism. There's always been an undercurrent of xenophobia in the "Die Hard" series, but this movie's crude insistence on a corrupt, morally bankrupt Russia betrays simple-minded nostalgia for those Cold War days when the Berlin Wall demarcated good and evil.

Do I ask too much from an action film? If so it's only because I haven't forgotten how good the first "Die Hard" was (and still is). The producers keep throwing more money at the franchise, but in this case more is less. Less attention to character, coherence and suspense, the very qualities that made "Die Hard" stand out in the first place.

"A Good Day to Die Hard"? A good time to call it a day.

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