20th Century Fox tries to turn the action franchise into a family business
There’s this Valentine’s Day cliche. You know the one: a guy takes his date to a terrible chick flick that’s gotten horrible reviews and which throws just about every romcom trope at him – all in the name of romance.
I guess you might call it progressive that 20th Century Fox attempted to turn the tables this year with its tried and true Die Hard franchise. Why not have the girl woo the guy this February 14 with explosions, clunky exposition, explosions, punching, and more explosions?
Well, this year the studio went for it, producing a movie full of ridiculous characterization, so-so action, and a nonexistent plot. Replace so-so action with so-so humor and you’d have What’s Your Number 2 on your hands.
Let’s start with said plot – which at first seems simple, but becomes more complex and unnecessarily convoluted as the film progresses.
We all know John McClane, who’s been Bruce Willis’ alter ego for close to thirty years now. Rather than saving an American city this time around, he’s in Russia just trying to save his son who’s been arrested for murdering a club goer.
I must have missed the explanation as to why Jack McClane (Jai Courtney) had to assassinate the guy. Despite whatever false pretenses police brought him in under, Jack’s being called in to testify against Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a political prisoner who’s supposedly been arrested for government whistle-blowing.
Whatever the reasons for the arrest, John gets wind of it and heads for Moscow to check in with his son. Of course, Junior has other plans. When the bad guys show up to capture Yuri, Jack escapes with the prisoner.
Turns out Jack’s working for the CIA in order to gain access to some secret intelligence only Yuri can lead them to, and must work together with his dad once all of his government contacts are terminated.
This leads to the main action of the film, which is just that – action. The thin plot pretty much devolves at this point, interweaving some occasional witty banter between the two McClane men during gunfights.
The main emotional draw of the movie is supposed to be John and Jack coming together after being estranged for several years. However, there’s zero chemistry between the two leads which leads to an unsatisfying emotional payoff. For the first half of the movie, their conversations essentially amount to:
John: I can’t believe you chose this line of work, son. I’m disappointed.
Jack: Well, with a role model like you, what do you expect?
One clumsy line like this would have been enough, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single line these two share for the first half of the movie is some variation of that exchange.
For most of the movie, John seems to be in his own little world, chasing after his son. Basically, it’s detective-chases-CIA agent. And it’s plain weird, and no amount of corny one-liners from Willis can fix the fact that this movie feels like it’s two different franchises mashed together.
Courtney doesn’t fit smoothly into the world that Willis has dominated since the late ‘80s, and if the rumors prove to be true, I can’t see him taking the weight of the Die Hard franchise off of Willis’ aging shoulders. Maybe his own franchise, with its own set of CIA-style rules, but not this one.
None of this would be so terrible if the action was any good – it’s what brings the audience out to see it in the first place, right?
Outside of one car chase scene, there are three action set pieces. Each one is the exact set of events over and over: John and Jack are attacked by a group of bad guys that swarm in on foot, and once they’ve dispatched them in some clever way, a helicopter shows up outside the ridiculously giant window they’re in front of and begins shooting. It allows for their escape, which of course involves dropping five stories onto something soft and plushy. Any amount of creativity in the action choreography would have been nice.
One final problem I have with the movie is its structure. I’m pretty sure it only had two acts, and it really showed. John and Jack have barely started working together when we arrive at the climax of the movie: a helicopter battle at Chernobyl.
There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required to watch these kinds of movies, but making up radiation-neutralizing technology so that everyone can battle without needing special protective suits is pretty over-the-top.
Bottom line: If this movie had either the action or the drama to back it up, it could have been salvageable. Without either, it’s just not worth it.
Actually, I take that back. The one upside to this movie is Courtney’s introduction scene. He walks into a club’s kitchen, picks up a gun, then goes out to the dance floor to shoot a guy. On its own, the scene would be inconsequential. However, when you’ve got nothing but a former Spartacus actor’s ass in tight pants planted squarely in the center of the camera’s view, it makes for some damn fine cinematography.
- Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
- Directed by: John Moore
- Running Time: 1 hr. 37 min.
- Genre: Action