“A Good Day to Die Hard” mixes family therapy with neutralization of bad guys

If there was a contest of one-upmanship between Martin Brody and John McClane, two rugged cops who honed their skills on the streets of New York City, McClane clearly would surge ahead. Brody can boost that his family overcame astounding odds of dealing with great white sharks on three separate occasions in the “Jaws” franchise.

McClane could then respond by ticking off his encounters, loudly depicted in the “Die Hard” series of movies: German terrorists (“Die Hard”), rogue military officials (“Die Hard 2″), a mad bomber (“Die Hard with a Vengeance”) and Internet-driven terrorists (“Live Free or Die Hard”). Now, thanks to “A Good Day to Die Hard,” McClane can add Russians planning a nuclear heist to his expanding resume of vicious adversaries.

Bruce Willis, who has been busy these days, showing up in theaters in the past year via “Moonlight Kingdom,” “The Cold Light of Day,” “Expendables 2″ and “Looper,” and has “G.I. Joe: Retribution” and “Red 2″ soon to roll out, assumes his John McClane persona for the fifth time, and the anticipation is for a lot of destruction. “A Good Day to Die Hard” does not disappoint in those expectations.

Looking back, the character of New York Det. John McClane was created by Roderick Thorpe from his novel “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which was adapted in 1988 for the screen in “Die Hard.” It grossed $88 million, which by today’s standards would be a $100 million-plus blockbuster, and although Willis had been in a few movies before that, he was mostly known for the hit TV series “Moonlighting,” and this role as McClane launched his movie career, which is not slowing down.

The screenplay baton for this latest “Die Hard” adventure was handed off to Skip Woods (“Swordfish,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), and the director was John Moore (“Behind Enemy Lines” and the remakes of “Flight of the Phoenix” and “The Omen”).

The plot is serviceable for justifying the ensuing chaos: McClane’s estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney, last seen mixing it up with Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher”), is involved in some nasty business in Russia and imprisoned. Back in the U.S. dad John gets word his son is in trouble and travels to Russia to find out what’s going on.

After an amusing encounter with a singing taxicab driver, McClane barely gets out of the car when explosions rip the place up, followed by gunfire as a nearby courthouse is attacked. Meanwhile, Jack and a political prisoner, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), on trial at the time of the assault,  manage to escape. It turns out Jack is a CIA operative on a mission to extract Komarov, who has intel that could bring down a rising political official who has very dirty hands with ties to terrorism and eyes on securing some nuclear goodies.

In a vehicle chase that seems to last forever, with hundreds of cars being destroyed, the elder McClane impedes and also assists in Jack’s and Kamarov’s getaway. Things settle down briefly to fortify the drama of a father-son alienation subplot — the usual: bitter son never having gotten over his workaholic father’s neglect; the father now seeing his parental miscues and wanting to make amends. John is incredulous and even mocking in his discovery that his son is in the CIA.

Meanwhile the Russians have their own mini-dramas and twists and betrayals, and the McClanes could have just stepped aside and watched the plot zip along. But hey, Russians or not, these are bad people and national, and possibly worldwide security is at stake.

So the McClanes quibble in between gunfights and chases, John makes recurring cracks about getting shot at and kicked around when he’s supposedly on vacation, and the father-son team manages to dodge deadly situations while engaging in a little family therapy.

This all leads to the inevitable final-reel showdown that goes down in the ghostly town of Chernobyl (one almost wishes the mutant creatures of “Chernobyl Diaries” would appear and add spice to this showdown). Since the McClanes are overwhelmingly outgunned, including facing a helicopter loaded with rapid-fire artillery, it is a no-brainer they are going to somehow outwit their overconfident foes and emerge bloodied but triumphant.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” is a typical ludicrous but entertaining action movie. Willis is in his element here and seems to have fared much better in this outing than his action-adventure brethren Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in their recent efforts. Some critics have suggested Willis retire his McClane. Well, that might work. Courtney, who has honed his physical chops with a role in “Spartacus,” could take the McClanes to the next generation.

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