By Robert Capehert
Last week, Beilstein sent me to the Regel Theaters in Oviedo, Fla., to see A Good Day To Die Hard. I confess not liking an inch of the cinematic frame, finding myself asleep at the wheel. It could not be helped. Worse action movies have been made, of course, but few as boring.
Mediocrity occupies large portions of American entertainment in these years. Some, sharing my political views, are angered by this turn of events.
Not me. I simply do not take our culture serious enough to be so bothered. Life offers plenty of beauty and mystic romances, elsewhere. One has to have the gumption and the patience to look.
A Good Day To Die Hard, a sequel — starring Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney — was an atrocious bit of storytelling. With A Good Day, Bruce Willis, 58, is on his fifth Die Hard outing, addicted to excreta now, it seems, following 1988’s impressive actioner. Willis is a fine performer, stirring actor with talent in reserve. But such elements do not overcome prosaic story telling.
In 1988, the Die Hard flick was a tonic of large entertainment — brimming with character, humor, and skilfully choreographed action pieces, set afire. Die Hard was an exciting action tale, chalked full of hyperbole, for sure, but a quality piece of commercial filmmaking. It took place in a City of Angel’s skyscraper, but never lost sight of its modest ambitions.
It was not unlike good fast food. Never to be confused with prime rib — but cinematically, piquant. Fresh off television’s Moonlighting, Willis’ charm and charisma was palpable. With good looks, a good role, the young Willis used the 1988 blockbuster film to enter the majors, just in time as Stallone, and others action figures, began a penultimate fade to black of the campy and overblown.
Differing quite a bit from previous action movies, all high-octane motion pictures packed with beefy knight-errant’s — Willis, as John McClane, was the common man thrown into intimately uncommon trouble with thief’s masquerading as foreign terrorists.
Based on Roderick Thorpe’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the original Die Hard flick became an epitome of the new action movie. It had imitators of course — Speed, Under Siege, come to mind — but nothing matched Die Hard’s human characteristics.
Next up, Renny Harlin contributed to Hollywood’s obsession with mediocrity with 1990’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder — wow, original title, one could cringe; but it made big juju money and by 1995, Die Hard with A Vengeance, better by a country mile, but not great, was released to commercial success.
It would take more than a decade to throw the public another John McClane adventure. In 2007, Live Free And Die Hard produced enough ridicule to choke a horse — a PG-13 Die Hard movie? — fans protested. Hindsight being 20/20, it appears to have been a mistake — but not as much as 2013’s A Good Day To Die Hard.
Sequels are a Hollywood custom. Like drugs and fast woman, overblown egos. But unlike so many movie snobs, and I consider myself a purebred capitalist when it comes to American movies, I’ve never minded sequels.
I look forward to them on baited breath. Sequels are, of course, always a gamble — most of the time being inferior cinematic endeavors. But they also are analogous to Christmas presents: one never knows what one might receive.
I never minded Hollywood admitting, quite frankly, it was fresh out of something new to do. Likewise, I understand, more than some, Hollywood is a business — the doors have to stay open — art-house movies are unable keep studio’s doors open.
Art films never kept the lights on in Hollywood — they never sold a lot of popcorn, either.
Exeunt A Good Day To Die Hard. I could not keep my mind from drifting. Whenever Jai Courtney brooded across the screen, I found myself thinking the 26-year-old Australian actor would make an excellent Mitch Rapp — throw him a black dye rug-job — in the upcoming American Assassin movie, based on Vince Flynn’s thriller novel of the same name.
Typically, when a movie ends I’m still stocked on popcorn. I usually end up taking it home, munching on it later. But less than halfway through Willis and Courtney’s prosaic adventure, father and son killing dozens of Russian sons of bitches, I found my hand scraping the bottom of an empty bag.
Slurping my Coke Classic, freshly out of popcorn, I contented myself — or tried too — with this abominable cinema drought. When a movie is good, I’m too busy watching the flick to eat my popcorn. Once the movie is done, therefore, plenty of corn remains.
But with A Good Day To Die Hard, God knows I have never been more bored — so I finished my popcorn way before the conclusion of the movie.
The original Die Hard flick took place in three major locations, give or take. But it mostly confined itself to a skyscraper high about Los Angeles. Conversely, A Good Day To Die Hard takes place in several locations — a rustic warehouse, jam-packed Moscow streets — and Chernobyl, badly rendered with bargain basement CGI (20th Century Fox must have spent too much money on the truck chase).
Some things were done right. The gunshots. They sounded pitch-perfect. Sound effects editing has come a thousand miles since I was a born in 1983. It brings tears to the eyes. Those gunshots, mind you, sounded real — ominous even, with the explosive pounding, and flat automatic rifle clattering, puncturing the dirty
Still, the original Die Hard never bored me.
A Good Day put me to sleep — almost. One will find no cinema snob in me — but there is some sorrowful contempt at the edge of my mood — dampened by pizza and dark beer — that would like a better class of action movie. Lots.
Something akin to the original Die Hard. Something with less explosions, more character — something alive, and God forbid, something exciting.