Bruce Willis in a Lazy Sequel, Plus a Lazy Meal

Twentieth Century Fox
Will Willis pass the Die Hard torch to Courtney?
The Dinner: Pizza, at Pagliacci (550 Queen Anne Ave. N.).

The Movie: A Good Day to Die Hard, at Cinerama (2100 Fourth Ave.).

The Screenplate: A good action movie, which this lazy fourth sequel is not, depends on more than action. Anyone can do action. Thanks to computer effects and an increasingly international cadre of muscled-up actors (English not required), action movies remain bankable, even in the non-summer months. But tellingly, the fifth Die Hard movie has been released during the Hollywood dead zone, between the holidays and Academy Awards. If the studio believed in it, Fox would put the movie out on Memorial Day. If Bruce Willis believed in it (rather than just believing in the paycheck), he'd be promoting it enthusiastically on the talk shows. And if he actually cared about the 25-year-old franchise, beyond the money, he'd have demanded a better script and director. But none of that happened, and A Good Day to Die Hard is essentially DOA, delivering none of the wisecracks or memorable villainy of the 1988 original.

Pagliacci has been around since 1979, when Bruce Willis was just another young struggling actor. He wouldn't come to public notice until the TV series Moonlighting, which ran from 1985-89; then Die Hard made him a star at 33. Since then, he's been in movies good and bad, and the four Die Hard spinoffs have mostly fallen somewhere between. The first movie, directed by John McTiernan is the best. The second (the one in the airport), directed by Renny Harlin in 1990, is good. The next two are fairly mediocre. The fifth, directed by cheap Irishman John Moore, can't even be bothered to be mediocre. Mediocre would take work, and no one here is interested in actual work.

But back to Pagliacci. Only a few scenes into AGDTDH, I knew I'd be opting for the quickest, easiest dinner option after the 97-minute show. For me that means the Uptown Pagliacci and, skipping ahead, whatever slices were ready to go. That happened to mean a pair of mushroom (for about $6), a far better value than the movie. Pagliacci delvers a reliable, tasty, convenient product. AGDTDH is none of those things. The word "good" does not belong in its title. True to its name, my mushroom pizza contained mushrooms. AGDTDH does not contain anything good.

Still on the NYPD at an age when most officers retire, John McClane receives news that his ne'er-do-well son Jack (Aussie actor Jai Courtney, of the Spartacus TV series) is in a Moscow jail, being held for murder. McClane jumps on a plane, setting out to save his child; and though he's on a rescue mission, the movie's designated tag line is, "I'm on a fucking vacation!" This McClane declares each time he's showered with broken glass or ducks an RPG lobbed by Russian baddies, even though he is, in fact, not on vacation. Another glaring error by screenwriter Skip Woods (of the recent A-Team remake) is a sneering remark delivered to McClane by a young henchman, "This isn't 1986," which drew a laugh because, you know, the original Die Hard came out in 1986, right? No, 1988, which Woods was too lazy to even check on IMDb.

Five minutes into the movie, McClane is called "grandpa." Twenty minutes in, he's careening through Moscow in a car chase, pursuing his son (now escaped from the cops), who's also liberated a Khodorkovsky-style oligarch (German actor Sebastian Koch, of The Lives of Others) from detention. The rest of the movie essentially consists of that trio shooting and fleeing and double-crossing, with an assist from the oligarch's daughter (Yuliya Snigir). Many guns are fired, many cars are destroyed, and there's a whole bunch of flying glass. The McClane men work through their differences, inevitably, and we're left to wonder if Willis will cede the series to the considerably younger and fitter Courtney. I doubt that will happen. Courtney has zero charisma, and Willis could conceivably do a sixth Die Hard in a few years, then rescuing his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Smashed, given only two scenes).

And let's not be too hard on Willis. While in coasting mode right now (he's in the G.I. Joe sequel next month), he was quite good in Looper and excellent in Moonrise Kingdom, playing a very different brand of lawman than John McClane. That performance, as a lovelorn island sheriff who tracks down then protects the two preteen runaways, was a model of quiet, restrained acting, something Stallone or Schwarzenegger--who both passed on the original Die Hard--could never do. Playing an age-appropriate, childless bachelor, Willis showed genuine, near-parental tenderness to the young fugitives of Moonrise. But no one's expecting that in AGDTDH, which will make money for all parties, particularly in Europe (it was made abroad for a reason, like all Woody Allen's recent flicks).

One thing, and one thing only, could've saved AGDTDH: a great villain, a true rival to the ever impertinent McClane, who need a rock to push against. I refer of course to Alan Rickman, who ransomed an entire skyscraper as the nefarious Hans Gruber in the original Die Hard. Midway through this middling effort, hopelessly bored, I began to wonder how we'd bring him back. The following dialogue exchange ran through my mind. Willis as McClane: "Gruber! I thought you were dead! I threw you off the Nakatomi Tower!" Rickman as Gruber: "No, Mr. McClane, that was my twin brother, Hans Gruber. I am Franz Gruber. And now prepare to die...." That's my premise for Die Hard VI, and Fox can have it for free. How much they'll have to pay Willis and Rickman is a different matter. But I'd buy a ticket.

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