What the Hell is going on? Who’s in what car? Which one is the bad guy? These are the questions that arose during the first fifteen minutes of A Good Day to Die Hard‘s car chase. That the action confuses more than excites is a bad, bad sign.
The movie opens in a Russian prison where billionaire Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) is awaiting trial for…um…potentially snitching out the bigwig Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). From the outset, it’s not clear who is actually the bad guy — Chagarin explodes when Komarov refuses to give him a certain file, so maybe he’s the bad guy, but then Komarov is a billionaire — and one who plays chess in prison at that — doesn’t that automatically mark him as the bad guy?
But then we switch to a night club, where Jack (Jai Courtney) assassinates Anton (Roman Luknar). Is Jack the bad guy then? Apparently not, since we’re now in America, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) is at the airport, heading to Russia to bail out Jack, who’s his son. Evidently Jack works for the CIA, which now condones public killings.
John arrives in Russia, gets stuck in traffic, chats with the cab driver, and finds out that this particular street is always congested. So why then did the cabbie take that road — or if that’s not the case, why did John get in a cab that was already in a traffic jam? In any event, after a pretty funny discussion about Frank Sinatra, John proceeds to the courthouse on foot where Jack is being tried with Komarov…er…wait, it’s Komarov’s trial, but Jack is testifying against Komarov. But it doesn’t matter, as Chagarin’s agents, headed by Alik (Radivoje Bukvic), yet another bad guy, blow up the courthouse and try to assassinate Komarov.
Okay, so this is ten or so minutes in, and there’s already five people who’ve taken up the mantle of antagonist. Meanwhile, there’s Jack McClane’s story, where he seems to be working for Charagin’s men, too, since he’s testifying against Komarov, but once the courthouse is attacked, he’s trying to save Komarov. They escape in a car just as John shows up (what happened to the traffic jam that was the hot topic just a whip ago?), and Jack’s mission switches yet again from trying to save Komarov to trying to agitate his father.
So begins the car chase, which is one of the messiest ever put on screen. We know what car Jack’s in, but as far as John and Alik’s cars, well, it’s tough. Even tougher still since they’re driving what looks like every other car in Russia, and further still, the editing jerks back and forth to God knows who so often that there’s no sense of anyone’s position.
One moment things are at eye level, the next it’s overhead, and before we can figure out who’s in what car doing this thing, it’ll flash to someone else’s car exploding. And finally, while all this is going on, Jack is cursing out John for showing up, saving his ungrateful patoot, existing. Am I supposed to be paying attention to this as well?
So Jack and John have a rotten history, we get it, but it’s hard to sympathize with either; Jack simply repeats the line “Get out of the way, John!” again and again, while John says next to nothing.
It goes on like this. Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) keeps the look so blue that few things if any are distinguishable, and those that possibly may be are not from the erratically violent overuse of shaky cam.
Willis, fine actor that he is in so many other films, is here so unrepentantly self-aware, he may as well be addressing the camera instead of anyone else. Not that his performance brings the film down; he gives just as much as the film deserves. Too bad the film sucks.
Courtney as John not only looks nothing like Willis, but comes across as a whiny little stooge. It also doesn’t help that he looks more Russian than any of the other, actual, Russians, either. The keystone of the film should be the relationship between John and Jack, but neither are interested in anything but shouting at the other. The most heartfelt moment in the film is between John and Komarov discussing their children. Jack unintentionally overhears it, but the point is lost, and soon he’s back to hating John.
So it’s an act of spectacle, and not a very good one. Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) have some neat ideas, executing them properly is, however, not among them. Early on there’s a shot of Willis entering a car — we see him move to the door then it inexplicably cuts to him already in the car, slamming the door. Was that necessary? All it does is confuse — did he just…magic…himself into the car?I can understand it if the chase sequence is intentionally confusing, but then shouldn’t John McClane be the one guy who is order among the chaos?
Then there’s the final sequence where Jack is being shot at by a helicopter. I’m still not sure where he is in relation to the helicopter, and where Komarov is in relation to Jack, or the helicopter’s guns in relation to Komarov, allowing him to escape. Or what Komarov’s plan is regarding the file and its safe. The geography of this film has all the frustration of an Escher drawing and none of the intrigue. The more I try to figure out what’s going on, the more I want to torment my girlfriend’s cat.