Twentieth Century-Fox has been beating this dead horse for twenty-five years. It is kind of cute and quaint; when every studio is remaking classic films or trying to rejuvenate a once successful franchise with a 'prequel', Fox steadfastly decides to keep plugging away and we have the fifth "Die Hard" film, quite possibly the worst, and hopefully the last.
Fox does introduce us to a younger character who could take over the franchise, if necessary and if this film makes enough money. This has been done before, but it doesn't work. The reason we want to see an "Indiana Jones" film is to see Harrison Ford play the role he made famous. The reason we want to see a "Die Hard" film is to see the role that made Bruce Willis' film career. But let's face it, while Willis has held up better than his "Expendables" co-stars, he won't last forever and Fox will probably try to make at least one more "Die Hard", which is why he now has an adult son, played by Jai Courtney (the unstoppable hit man in "Jack Reacher"). Conceivably, Courtney will take over the series and play Die Hard in the next film.
John McClane learns his son, John (Courtney) has been arrested for murder in Russia. The elder John decides to travel there; what he hopes to accomplish, he doesn't seem to know and we never learn. But he arrives in Moscow just in time for his son's sentencing, which happens to take place at the exact same time as the sentencing of a Russian businessman, Kamarov (Sebastian Koch), the main rival of Chagarin, both of whom are the top candidates for the Minister of Defense position. Chagarin has jailed his rival, in the hopes he will talk and reveal the whereabouts of a damaging file. But he won't so an attempt is made on the heavily fortified courthouse on the day of the trial, causing a lot of confusion and destruction. This only allows John the Younger to help Kamarov to escape. Just as they are leaving the courthouse, John literally drives right into his father before speeding off. But John the Elder senses something is wrong (all of the explosions are a giveaway) and chases after them. But the bad guys are also in hot pursuit and the three groups began a destructive, improbable, yet exciting chase through the crowded Moscow city center. Eventually, we learn that Junior is an undercover CIA agent sent to help Kamarov. But there are more secrets leading to a showdown at Chernobyl. Yes, Chernobyl.
Directed by John Moore ("Max Payne", "The Omen (2006)", "Flight of the Phoenix (2004)") and written by Skip Woods ("The A-Team"), "Good Day" has one good action sequence (the chase through the Moscow streets) but little or no character development, the most inane dialogue I have ever heard in an action film (that's saying a lot) and a story that is tasteless. Mix all of this together and this IS the worst "Die Hard" film.
Generally, sequels tend to get bigger in scope because the filmmakers hope this will increase the odds of you purchasing a ticket for the new film. The "Die Hard" films are no exception; the first film is set in a Los Angeles office building, the second in an airport, the third in New York City, the fourth concerns a threat to the entire country and this new film features an international adventure. Yet, oddly with each new film the storytelling seems to shrink and the smaller scope has an adverse effect on the quality and substance of the films. A lot of the reason for this is that as each film expands the threat, the writing seems to become more rote and much less interesting. The first film is still the best because the threat to John is very personal. He just happens to arrive at his wife's office building as a group of terrorists takes it over to hold everyone hostage. The original is a terrific film, giving us a lot of detail and back-story for the hero and the villain, making both of them very human and believable. And it never hurts to have Alan Rickman in your film playing the villain. In "II", the threat is increased, but however improbable, McClane and his wife are still under threat, so there is still some immediacy to the action. With each new film, McClane has evolved further and further into a cartoon character getting into improbable situations with no character development. In "Good Day", the action seems small and confined, despite the international locale. What does John McClane expect to do in Russia? How does he see this plan unfolding? Part of the delight of the first film is that McClane is thrust into a situation and has to figure out how to control it. In this new film, he enters this world and begins to insinuate himself into it. Yes, he is trying to help his son, but he isn't under threat until he steps into this situation and begins messing around.
One of the keys to making this film work is to make us feel some empathy towards the characters. Willis seems to smirk his way through the entire film. There are brief moments between McClane and his partner and between McClane and his daughter (who was taken hostage in the fourth film), but these don't do anything except establish the fact that John is estranged from his son. And when Courtney enters the picture, it is clear the family dynamic is strained, John Jr. holds a gun on his father which is an interesting way to illustrate the family dynamic for us. It also does nothing to make us like J.J. Later, after they barely escape a barrage of bullets, John Sr. begins chastising his son as he contemplates removing a piece of rebar sticking out of his chest. "Are you going to cry? You're not going to cry on me are you?" Maybe John Jr. has a reason to feel estranged from his father. John Sr. seems like a pretty big jerk. And this moment does nothing to build any sense of family between them. Also, because we don’t really like either of them who are we supposed to root for? Later, it seems as though someone flips a switch because suddenly the father and son are working together in harmony, smiling and joking with one another.
The film eventually ends up at Chernobyl as the McClanes attempt to stop the villains from removing enriched uranium. Chernobyl? Really? This just seems incredibly tasteless. As the film casually states, 50,000 people were immediately moved and uprooted when the meltdown happened. The film doesn't seem to dwell upon the deaths or resulting health problems experienced by so many people in the area. This isn't surprising because it would no doubt turn off a lot of the viewers and cut into the popcorn sales.
I keep going to the "Die Hard" films because I am an optimist. I keep hoping that one of these films will be able to at least approximate a small portion of what made the first film so good. Great action, edge-of-your-seat suspense, a brilliant villain, and a personal threat to the hero making us feel for his character and really care about what happens to him. In "Good Day", the villain is forgettable and after one of his henchmen dies, almost nothing of interest happens with this group. It is not a good thing when the villain’s henchman is more interesting than the actual villain. Quick, what was the name of each villain who employed Jaws in the two James Bond films? But if you say “Blofeld” to any James Bond fan, they immediately know who you are talking about. There is no suspense. McClane walks into a situation and then starts shooting, so we really don't feel anything for him or his son.
And Courtney is really never given anything to do with his portrayal of John Jr. He is an undercover CIA agent who has to deal with an increasingly difficult situation, but the development of his relationship with his father is laughable and does nothing to make him likable. And because he isn't likable, we don't care about what happens to him.
Maybe this is the studio's way of setting up the sequel, "Die Hard with Charm". Die Hard Jr. (Courtney) attends charm school to make him a more likable character. While there, the strict German headmistress, Fraulein Gruber (Alan Rickman in drag) decides to extract her revenge. The story almost writes itself.