After 25 years, the "Die Hard" franchise is showing its age -- and not just on the increasingly worn face of its star, Bruce Willis.
The loud, incoherent and flatly stupid fifth installment, helpfully titled A Good Day To Die Hard, takes irascible cop John McClane (Willis) abroad to Moscow, as he seeks to reconcile with his estranged (and heretofore unseen) son, John Jr. (the wooden Jai Courtney), who is working as a high-level CIA operative.
It's not long before the hapless McClane, who spends much of the film squawking "I'm on vacation!," is enmeshed in some unfathomable Russian intrigue (there's talk of crucial files, bureaucratic shenanigans, and double and triple crosses), mayhem and carnage ensue, and wisecracks fly with as much energy as the bullets.
It's all a deafening mess of automatic weapons fire, property damage and painfully dated "Russia, what a country!" jokes that even Yakov Smirnoff would find weak.
Not that there was a high bar to clear after the mightily underwhelming fourth "Die Hard" film (2007's Live Free or Die Hard), but A Good Day To Die Hard makes a strong case for ending the series before it does any more damage to the legacy of the first three films.
Directed by John Moore, the new film's brisk pace is exacerbated by his relentless use of handheld cinematography, which doesn't induce a feeling of momentum so much as it recalls the "Bourne" films. Moore also isn't helped by Skip Woods' common sense-starved screenplay -- for example, the climactic confrontation is staged at the ruins of Chernobyl, but neither protagonist thinks to wear any sort of protective gear, although the villains quite prominently do. The script merely provides the bare minimum to set the plot in motion before elaborate car chases and gruesome shootouts drown out everything.
Willis smirks his way through the shrapnel-riddled chaos, and the rest of the cast is uniformly forgettable in their thinly written roles. Budapest stands in for Moscow here, but only the most seasoned world traveler would be able to discern the difference amid the digitally augmented madness.
This (hopefully) last gasp of the "Die Hard" series comes during what could only be considered the twilight of the 1980s action star. The past two months have seen, along with this "Die Hard" entry, two other, similarly old-fashioned thrillers starring two of Willis' contemporaries, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone -- The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head, respectively. Tellingly, they've not fared well with audiences or critics.
All three movies hark back to the trio of stars' hyperviolent heyday in the Reagan era, when low-concept, high-body-count B-movies could be relied upon to rake in the dollars. But now, in this post-ironic age of self-aware genre exercises, there needs to be more meat on the bone for audiences to chew on. As it is, A Good Day To Die Hard brazenly insults the audience's intelligence, even as it works overtime to shoehorn in references to previous films and, of course, McClane's profane "yippie-ki-ay" catchphrase. Nostalgia's a useful marketing tool, but it only carries you so far.
Hollywood, please -- let us have our fond memories of Die Hard, a smart riff on the action movie formula, and have the good decency to let this series retire in peace. It's a good day to call it quits.
Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713