1980s action heroes have been taking it on the chin lately. In his comeback to the big screen, Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand" brought in a measly $12 million, while Sylvester Stallone's "Bullet to the Head" fared even worse, bringing in only $8.5 million. Ironically, with his latest, their contemporary Bruce Willis will score the biggest box office success of the three, though his film is the worst of the bunch.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" will draw an audience simply based on its brand name, but it's a soulless, unimaginative exercise that doesn't set out to entertain an audience so much as bludgeon it into submission. With nary an original idea or line of dialogue in sight, this is the sort of movie that singlehandedly kills franchises, as it's obvious that its makers, hack director John Moore and "screenwriter" Skip Woods, are simply spinning their wheels, hoping to obscure the fact that they have nothing new to offer with scenes of mass destruction.
The plot, what there is of it, involves McClane (Willis) traveling to Moscow after his son (Jai Courtney) has been taken into custody. Dad's not sure what the charges are, but he's off to save his boy, who happens to be a CIA agent involved in helping to free a Soviet dissident (Sebastian Koch). The extraction of this key figure to maintaining stability in Russia goes sideways, and before you know it, father and son are on the run, trying to protect their charge while avoiding the bad guys, whose motivations remain murky throughout.
I'm not going to waste any more time on the plot here as it is of little consequence. This is a movie that exists to thrill its audience, stringing together one mindless action sequence after another and failing at every turn. Every action scene is impossible to follow, what with Moore's rapid cutting and camera movement, so much so I'm surprised I didn't have a seizure.
More disturbing is how irresponsible the filmmaker is in the way he presents the mayhem. To be sure, action films require a suspension of disbelief, which includes ignoring the fact that innocent bystanders get maimed or killed in them. But here, the action is so relentless and takes place in such crowded venues that a sense of queasiness soon sets in, as it's obvious that McClane and son are not heroes as much as public menaces, likely responsible for the death of hundreds. Any sense of escapism is absent from this heartless exercise, and that quality has always been one of the most appealing aspects of the "Die Hard" franchise.
Also missing is the sense that McClane is a real character of any sort. Here, he's nothing but a quip machine uttering inane dialogue at every turn, each line a pithy wisecrack that falls short. Willis has charm to spare, but even his considerable charisma can't bring any life to this tired character.
Without question, the film's last 15 minutes are inspired and deliver some much-needed thrills. But it's much too little, too late as Moore and company have abused the viewer so much that we're far too bruised and battered to be in the mood for this sort of entertainment.
'A Good Day to Die Hard' (1 star out of 4)
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Sergei Kolesnikov and Melissa Tang.
Directed by John Moore; produced by Alex Young; screenplay by Skip Woods.
A 20th Century-Fox release. 97 minutes. Rated R (pervasive violence and language). At AMC Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16.
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Shameless melodrama kills "Safe Haven." (1-1/2 stars out of 4)
The best of the Nicholas Sparks adaptations, "The Notebook," benefited from the chemistry of its two leads (Ryan Gosling and Rachel Adams), a strong director (Nick Cassavettes) and most importantly, a plot that developed naturally without any unnecessary melodrama. The author knew at that point in his career that there's drama enough in seeing two people we care for fall in love.Unfortunately, Sparks abandoned that model soon after, as every adaptation of his work since has been far too melodramatic to be convincing.
The latest is "Safe Haven," and it focuses on two tragic characters who find love, only to have to overcome one ludicrous obstacle after another to live happily ever after. The couple in question is made up of Alex (Josh Duhamel), a tragic widower, and Katie (Julianne Hough), a battered woman on the run. They meet in a small seaside town in North Carolina where he's the proprietor of the only general store Walmart hasn't put out of business. Katie likes the look of the place, decides to settle down, and after an awkward start, gets to know Alex and his two kids — mad-at-the-world Josh (Noah Lomax) and cute-as-a-button Lexie (Mimi Kirkland). Before you know it, the couple is cavorting on the beach, giggling in the dark and seems destined for happiness.
So far, so good, but Sparks, who served as one of the film's producers, and screenwriters Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens can't leave well enough alone. Preposterous coincidences and shameless melodrama rear their ugly heads to drive the story into the ground. That's a shame as Duhamel and Hough are good here, generating a realistic sense of chemistry and creating appealing characters that I wish I had met in a better movie. They nearly save the film, but by the time Katie's psychotic husband (David Lyons, in a thankless role) discovers her whereabouts through a ridiculous turn of events and Lexie is put in unnecessary peril, I was shaking my head at the lengths the film went through to put the two lovers in jeopardy. Like nearly all of the Sparks adaptations, "Safe Haven" isn't an exercise in romance but simply a display of bad storytelling the likes of which far too many people have fallen in love with.
"Identity Thief" steals nothing but viewer's time. (1-1/2 stars out of 4)
"Identity Thief" is the sort of film that attempts a great deal and succeeds at nothing. At once a slapstick comedy, a chase film and an exercise in tear-jerking, director Seth Gordon fails to achieve a consistent tone throughout as madcap hijinks, mortal peril and a pathetic attempt at pathos are all thrown at the audience to see what will stick. None of it does, and a stench of desperation develops early on that the film never shakes.
Jason Bateman is Sandy Patterson, a lowly drone who works at an investment firm where he's great at managing other people's money while earning very little of his own. He has two young daughters and a pregnant wife (a wasted Amanda Peet) to provide for, and he's barely making it. But things are looking up as he takes a job at another firm where he'll be paid five times his present salary.
However, he gets tripped up by Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a lowly con artist who is an expert at running up massive credit card debt in other people's names. Too bad Patterson's first name is distinctly feminine (he insists it's unisex) as he winds up being her next target, resulting in our hero being arrested and in danger of losing his new job.
This is cleared up quickly, and Patterson sets out to bring Diana, who is in Florida, back to Denver so she can clear his name. This ends up being easier said than done, as screenwriter Craig Mazan puts them through the wringer, having drug dealers (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) and a bail bondsman (Robert Patrick) pursue them as they attempt to travel cross-country in a variety of problematic vehicles.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is the film being ripped off here, right down to the big reveal at the end when we're told that Diana isn't as bad as she seems. This is the least convincing element of the film as the character is a vile, reprehensible, irresponsible sociopath and attempting to get us to sympathize with her is a cheap, insincere ploy.
Without question, McCarthy is a talented performer, but her shtick is already wearing thin. There's a certain charm to the awkward characters she plays, but here there's a mean streak to Diana that's hard to overlook. Bateman does his level best to salvage the film with his harried everyman, but this routine is getting a bit tired as well.
As a result, "Identity Thief" winds up being a cinematic journey with two characters you wouldn't want to cross the street with, let alone spend two hours in their company.
A member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chuck Koplinski studied film at Chicago's Columbia College and has reviewed films for 20 years. For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter at chucksmoviepicks. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org