Blu-ray Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

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What a difference 25 years makes. In 1988, the original Die Hard was a breath of fresh air. Director John McTiernan, hot off the success of Predator, turned Bruce Willis into an action superstar overnight. Everything about the movie was just right, especially its larger-than-life villain played so memorably by Alan Rickman. All these years (and countless copycats) later, it still works.

Truth be told, there has never been a truly great Die Hard sequel and the latest, A Good Day to Die Hard, scrapes the very bottom of the barrel. Both the 1990 Renny Harlin-directed Die Hard 2 and 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (for which McTiernan returned to the helm) had their moments. But they each suffered from the dreaded one-climax-too-many syndrome. For my money, the DVD-only R-rated cut of Live Free or Die Hard (2007) was actually the best of the sequels. It too was overlong, but Len Wiseman’s direction was exciting and the buddy team-up between Willis and Justin Long worked surprisingly well.

Die Hard 5 courtney (167x250).jpgSo maybe I should’ve opened by saying what a difference six years makes. With A Good Day we have an action flick so generic it might as well have been a John Cena vehicle. Much of the film’s potential for success lie in the pairing of Willis’ John McClane with his adult son Jack (Jai Courtney). Unfortunately their relationship never evolves into something compelling. Courtney certainly isn’t unlikable, but screenwriter Skip Woods (The A-Team, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) forgot to write a character for him to play. Good luck to the series’ producers if Courtney’s Jack represents the possible future of the franchise once Willis is too old (though the aging star will reportedly return for a sixth film).

The film opens in Russia with Jack in considerable trouble, apparently involved in a political assassination. Word of his son’s arrest reaches John, who quickly decides to hop a plane and find out what exactly is going on. The two are estranged and haven’t talked in years. John assumes his son, who he regards as a ne’er do well, is on the wrong side of the law and in over his head. Turns out, Jack is an undercover CIA agent. John’s sudden presence is nothing more than a wrench in the works. Jack’s years-long operation involves corrupt Russian politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) and Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who holds a secret file upon which the plot hinges.

There’s not much point in recapping the plot (which eventually leads our heroes to Chernorbyl) in any further detail. Clearly the storytelling was secondary to the tech. In the special features, one crew member even says the massive Mi-26 helicopter that figures prominently in the action is, in fact, deserving of co-star status. That kind of thinking inadvertently sums up the problem. I saw A Good Day on opening night in theaters and left with my jaw agape at the banality I had witnessed. Revisiting the film on Blu-ray, in an extended cut that only adds about four minutes to the tight 98-minute running time, I was once again struck by how boring it is.

Die Hard 5 willis (167x250).jpgLuckily all the attention to tech paid off in spades with a state of the art Blu-ray presentation. The highly stylized cinematography by Jonathan Sela, who shot on old-fashioned 35mm film, looks stunning. It’s a dark looking film, with a moody color scheme that ensures nothing looks at all like reality. The cinematography, though drenched in cool blues that frequently crop up in modern action movies, manages to evoke a sinister atmosphere distinctive among the Die Hard series. Frankly, Sela’s work deserved a far better movie. The gritty sweat on Willis and Courtney’s faces glistens so realistically, you’ll practically think you can wipe it off the screen.

Also excellent is the DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix, one of the most booming, aggressive mixes I’ve heard. Crank this one if you’ve got neighbors you want to piss off. Since this film is largely one long action sequence, the speakers hardly get a rest. This track delivers a positively punishing sonic experience. The first big action set piece, a super-long car chase involving numerous vehicles, may be a near-laughable bit of unintentional genre parody. But the audio technicians knew exactly what to do to rattle the floor, walls, windows, and pretty much everything else.

A surprisingly great supplemental package accompanies A Good Day. The easy way out for a film that underperformed (domestically, at least) is to grace it with a few obligatory EPK pieces. Instead they’ve given us “Making it Hard to Die,” an hour-long making-of piece that’s worth watching even if you didn’t care for the film. Yes, it’s a little too self-congratulatory, but there’s a ton of great information here about the making of a big actioner. That ridiculous chase sequence I mentioned above has a 26-minute featurette of its own. Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, three shorter featurettes, pre-vis sequences, concept art, and storyboards are included as well. Director John Moore is joined by first assistant director Mark Cotone for an audio commentary. I doubt ay fan will leave unsatisfied with all this material.

Die Hard 5 two (350x232).jpgLet’s hope things get back on track with Die Hard 6. As it stands, it goes without saying that A Good Day to Die Hard is likely to be the least-viewed of the series for most John McClane fans.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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