I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if you had to see yet another 20th-century action star, alive and well and kicking ass for the benefit of the over-40s crowd — and that star is Bruce Willis, whom you can remember as having a full head of hair (brunette) and a terrible taste in suits — you’re thinking, “Enough already. Shelf life way too long.”
I’m here to inform you that here-today-yesterday-and-forever action men like good ol’ Bruce deserve some credit. If nothing else, “A Good Day to Die Hard” gets you in touch with Willis in his best and finest Hollywood mode. It’s the fifth (and quite possibly not the last) installment in the franchise that immortalized Willis’ famous battle cry of “Yippee ki-yay, motherf-cker!” — which you’ll be hearing a lot again. It’s noisy, busy, obnoxious and it fits him like an unwashed tank top.
And when you get right down to it, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is a rockin’ treat, the way a Snicker’s bar and a large Coke is. No doubt you’ll later be groaning from a sugar crash and the self-loathing that can only come from mindless consumption of empty calories. But hey, you only live once.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the first “Die Hard” (1988), in which NYPD cop John McClane (Willis) flies to Los Angeles to meet his separated wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and winds up single-handedly crushing a band of terrorists. A quarter of a century later, McClane is still a cop, again estranged from his family and stewing in his own brew of bad attitude. Not one strand of hair remains on his head, and his wardrobe, consisting of what can only be described as the Walmart Slob Selection, hasn’t changed.
A notable difference is that this latest installment has the distinction of an original screenplay (penned by Skip Woods), whereas the previous four scripts were basically hand-me-downs from film projects that never worked out. McClane is getting the royal treatment, and he also gets to travel abroad — while the other films were set around the United States, this is the first time he’s had a chance to utilize his passport.
It’s hard to envision the guy even having a passport, but in any case his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives him to the airport and cautions him not to mess things up any more than they are already. This time, McClane is on a personal mission to Moscow, where his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) is in trouble with the Russian police.
Once McClane gets off the plane and into a cab, the exotic and intimidating Moscow streets start to feel like home. Inside of 10 minutes McClane has gotten chummy with his driver, screamed profanities at the top of his lungs and had a narrow escape from a chain of orchestrated explosions that all but rip apart 80 percent of the Russian capital’s infrastructure.
McClane lives on mayhem like addicts live on drugs — deprive him of a fix and he turns nasty. Present him with a trunk-load of destructive weapons, however, and his whole face lights up with a goofy smile: “Let’s go kill some scumbags!”
Just so you know, son Jack is a lot easier on the eye than his old man, with biceps seemingly made from Whole Foods Market protein powder and membership at a posh gym — unlike McClane Sr.’s chops, which are most likely composed of Frito-Lays and street fights.
Not that one muscle composition is necessarily better than the other. There’s something to be said for an “old school” man, as Jack describes his father, who refuses to bow to the times (or just refuses to bow) and remains staunchly locked in his own, unflappable persona, come tsunami or an army of Russian terrorists who are about to deploy the uranium from Chernobyl to build a massive nuclear warhead. Never mind that it’s the McClane duo versus 300 baddies; father and son come out tops every time.
It helps to sit back and wave goodbye to your disbelief. At 57, Willis has a reputation to uphold and a winner franchise to continue. What’s he gonna do, turn neat and reasonable? The baton is passed to Jack for at least part of the race, but Willis will most likely run his own laps for a good while yet. It’s comforting and not a little exasperating to know.