A Good Day to Die Hard

GoodDayDieHardI will cut right to the chase as I’ve wasted enough time already enduring this so-called entry in the Die Hard canon.  John Moore, director of such ‘memorable classics’ as The Omen (2006) and Max Payne, rides into the land of 20th Century Fox studios and takes the reigns of all things Die Hard, only to make the marginally decent fourth Die Hard look like the class-act original Die Hard. Moore’s 97-minute implosion stems from an anemic script by Skip Woods who seems to have written an entirely different protagonist, but simply swapped out a name for John McClane.

Where do we find America’s favorite wrong place-wrong time cop, McClane (Bruce Willis)?  He’s trotting about Moscow in an attempt to rescue his son, Jack (Jai Courtney), a CIA operative trying to extract an important Russian informant with a target on his back.  In the midst of protecting said Russian man, the estranged father-son duo exchange shallow barbs with each other and fire machine guns in all directions. Jack’s mad at Daddy for not being around much.  McClane doesn’t get it.  Boo-hoo. Do you think the banter is ever as biting and fresh as what we got from Samuel L. Jackson and Willis in the third Die Hard?  Heck, I would even take some Justin Long/Bruce Willis banter at this rate.  The studio and even Bruce Willis, himself, clearly had no intent to make a worthy installment.

Seriously.  The meeting for this movie went something like this.  “We have an idea for a Die Hard slogan: Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia.”  The studio executive says: “I love it. Perfect poster.  Green light.  Starting shooting tomorrow.  Worry about the script when you’re halfway finished.”  Willis jumps aboard and zones out the entire time.

Mr. Willis clearly isn’t here to play his most famous character.  He simply bobs around the international landscape taking a backseat to his son’s attempts at executing a plan.  None of what makes McClane the hero we love exists in this lazy cash-grab featuring a nonsensically convoluted yet surprisingly thin plot that could fit through the eye of a needle.  Honestly, the plot is so invisible, you will wonder for what reason all this mayhem took place when the end credits roll.

Yes, we get all the insane action and violence the CGI budget of a $92 million production can offer.  But McClane was never much for technology.  Willis’ continually yells, “I’m on vacation!”  Five times he repeats this.  I kept yelling to myself—no you aren’t!  You flew to Russia to save your son… What does that have to do with vacation?!  I concluded the catchphrase was intended as foreshadowing regarding what Willis was going to do with his hefty paycheck.  Consider this cash cow milked.



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Jack Reacher

jack-reacher-poster-internationalThe film adaptation Jack Reacher is guilty of a lot of crimes, but perhaps its largest is that of bad timing.  This thriller looses the mystery of a mass shooting in which five innocent victims wind up the target of a deranged assassin one fateful morning.  How this eerie resemblance to real life of late hasn’t blown up bigger in reaction to the film boggles the cortex.

From the picture’s outset, the audience knows the identity of the real perpetrator, but investigators follow a concrete trail of breadcrumbs leading directly to a military sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), complete with a mental history that resulted in the cold-blooded murders of four army cohorts.  Barr demands the feds find someone to assistant his defender, Helen (Rosamund Pike) in order to find the truth.  He calls on Jack Reacher, a military cop-drifter, living entirely off the grid.  The audience only views the back of Mr. Reacher’s noggin for his first few scenes.  Why is he so secretive?  Because he’s a hard-boiled limb-snapper with nothing to lose.  You think he’s a hero?  He is not a hero.  He doesn’t care about the law.  He doesn’t care about proof.  He only cares about what’s right.  Yes, you’ve seen the ads.  They might as well have said, “Dear bad guys: he will find you.  He will kill you.”

The noggin belongs to superstar Tom Cruise, whose career has bounced around the building blocks for the last eight years.  They love him.  They hate him.  They tolerate him.  They love him again.  They hate him again.  Luckily none of that matters as Cruise has always brought 100 percent to his work—even made-for-cable thrills such as Jack Reacher, which gloriously miscasts Cruise, drives through cliches with a snowplow, runs about twenty minutes too long, and somehow manages to still reward audiences with plenty of bang for their buck.

Even though Cruise would be considered pint-sized against author Lee Child’s hulking intimidator from his Reacher novel series, the actor still brings charisma and believability (as far as any believability can go in this film) to the part.  Did I believe he could lay waste to five perps bare-handed and single-handedly?  Absolutely.  Do I think he can take a baseball bat to the back of the skull and still maneuver?  Hmmm.

JACK REACHERBut let’s be honest here—Cruise blows up any action movie he touches in a good way, even when he doesn’t belong.  Jack Reacher is a prime fit for him if we didn’t already know this was a franchise originally intended for a Dwayne Johnson-type.  Once audiences get past that glare, they can settle into a grimy thriller from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, a frequent collaborator with Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) and now of course Cruise (the upcoming All You Need is Kill and Mission Impossible 5).

McQuarrie lets Reacher settle in a placid violence.  The action often results in painfully brutal imagery.  The shooting.  The fisticuffs.  Then there’s the menace of his villains, Jai Courtney (the actual shooter) and the brilliant insanity of filmmaker Werner Herzog who steps in front of the camera as the maniacal, foggy-eyed embodiment of evil referred to as the Zec.  The performances throughout the film range from fair, to good, to wild.  It’s actually all quite fascinating.  Then McQuarrie underscores the events with unmistakable dread.  Somehow his movie escaped with a PG-13 rating probably because there’s little blood.  But the violence is blunt, brutal and lingering.  Think Taken and Bourne on a depressant, in which the action doesn’t cut and jump around to a head-spin.  Instead McQuarrie let’s the moments of violence build and linger.

This is where the writer-director somehow blends the formulaic proceedings of the plot with the odd dose of casting and mixes in his bitter penchant for the deep-rooted cold, making Jack Reacher an unexpected kick to the gut.  Is Reacher, the enforcer, a hero?  The question is never exactly answered, but I’m guessing as a potential franchise for Cruise, the powers that be will think so.

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