Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard: Next one will have to be set on an island

Word of mouth must be killing A Good Day to Die Hard; only five days into release, on cheap ticket night in the Hidden City, even testosterone fuelled teenagers were piling in to Wreck-it Ralph. I sat in solitary splendour in my middle row with not a living thing between me and the action, and thought to myself, I knew this wasn't going to be good but...

Of course, this is one of these things which could have been saved if only everyone had had a sense of history. Take Napoleon; started well, impressed everyone with his use of resources, ran rings around lumbering opposition, and kept going even while more and more opponents piled in against his insane ambition. Then he had the bright idea of heading for Moscow. Going to Moscow has never ended well for Euro-despots, and it turns out that even going to fake-Moscow is not working out well for Bruce. It's time to ponder Napoleon's future career; after Moscow, give or take some details, it was next stop Elba, then Waterloo, and then St Helena. I'm going to suggest Elba; set all the action on a small island, and get the franchise back to its roots; manageable stakes, tight quarters and a villain you can root for. On the assumption that Bruce isn't reading my every word as though it were a ransom note from the future, my best guess is that for the inevitable disastrous sixth Die Hard movie, they're going to kick it up a notch from Moscow and break Vizzini's first rule against obvious blunder; tune in three years from now as John McClane gets himself involved in a land war in Asia….

Of course, Bruce doesn't actually go to real Moscow, because the real people who run real Moscow are noticeably lacking in a sense of humour about the possibility that the country's being run by insane criminals (the alternative approach taken in the US is to embrace the notion in fiction, which is genius, since everyone then comes to think that insane criminals deciding everything of importance is something which could only happen in the movies, rather than every day of the week). Down the road in Budapest, everyone is perfectly cool with the idea of depicting Russia as a land of insane criminals, and they're apparently perfectly cool with the notion of destroying half of down town in the world's most unnecessary car chase as well. The first ties back to the general Hungarian tradition that Russians are a bad idea, and the second presumably to the even more important Hungarian tradition that everything is negotiable given enough hard currency and soft morals. Billy Wilder wonderfully described a Hungarian as a guy who could get into a revolving door behind you and come out in front of you, and he meant it as a compliment. Anyhow, the whole thing was shot in Hungary for tax purposes, and the single most impressive technical achievement was not making it look vaguely like Moscow (since who the hell knows what Moscow looks like short of the Kremlin), but in keeping the Hungarian House of Parliament out of shot. The Hungarian parliament looks like what Westminster would have been like if Kim Newman had been right and Dracula got to run London's architecture for a spell, which is to say there's nothing else like it in the whole world.

Back to that car chase for a moment, because it's wrong in so many ways I wanted to give everyone involved a speeding ticket, or perhaps encourage them all to stand on the back roads of Kerry for a while when Michael Healy Rae gets his way and drunk driving is made legal for every farmer over the age of fifty. Firstly, it's important to keep in mind that every car in Moscow is a Mercedes, even the army trucks. Secondly, there's a point in a car chase where even I start to wonder just how many people would have gotten killed in the general hi-jinks, and this car chase busts through that barrier about three minutes into its interminable quarter hour. Thirdly, in Die Hard Moscow, no-one even blinks when you tool around the place for no readily apparent reason in an armoured truck with a gun turret on the roof. Even if you park the thing ten feet away from the main criminal court house. The main criminal court house which we just saw a second ago surrounded by enough heavily armed guards to invade Hungary all over again and keep it this time. They built the truck specifically for the movie, so they didn't even have the excuse of "Well, we've got this cool truck which the army isn't using, let's see what we can break with it."

The truck is central, not that I can really see why, to the escape plot which - I know the word they were thinking of was "propels" but I'm going with  "ruins" -  the first half of the movie.  I now have no alternative but to try to explain the plot to you. Bruce Willis' estranged son has arranged to have himself fetch up in the same courtroom as a Russian oligarch on trial for some kind of corruption. This took three years of under-covering about and the straight up murder of some random guy in a bar, making for one of the most pointlessly elaborate schemes ever committed to celluloid. Meanwhile, Bruce is back in New York (the Bruce-world NYPD still emblazons every surface in sight with stickers you could see from space, as though somehow its rank and file would otherwise get confused about where they work or just why they have badges and guns), learning from his buddy that his son is in terrible trouble in Moscow. So he flies off to Moscow, leaving Sucre from Prison Break thinking "That was the easiest $100 I'm going to make this year." and Mary Elizabeth Winstead hoping that she can get away with one small cameo in a car at the airport - tough break, Mary, you have to welcome your dad and  brother home at the end of the movie for some reason, though your mother still hates all of you and shuns the reunion.

OK, there's our starting cast; Bruce, the estranged son, the crooked oligarch and the Russian Minister who wants to nobble him before he testifies. Enter THE GANG, who blow up three BMWs to knock a hole in the wall of the courthouse and then storm in with gas masks and heavy weapons to grab the only two people still standing; the two defendants who seem to have been spared the worst of the blast thanks to the Russian habit of putting prisoners into glass boxes in courtrooms. Places where I'd like to be standing in an explosion; inside a glass box does not feature anywhere in my top hundred, but it's the movies, eh? Anyhow, Bruce Junior and the oligarch leg it, find their way to a pre-positioned van, and then get delayed by Bruce blundering in. The delay means they miss their date with a Reaper drone (I have NO idea what that was actually supposed to achieve even if it had worked) and they get spotted by THE GANG who give chase in their preposterous twenty tonne armoured truck from some hyper active child's imagination.

THE GANG chase Bruce Junior, and Bruce chases THE GANG, first with a unimog, then with a Mercedes G wagon. Which, by the way, are both just amazing vehicles, because they have enough power to nudge a six wheeled truck six or seven times their own weight right off the road and through dozens of innocent passersby. And it goes on forever. It makes the freeway chase in the second Matrix movie look like a good idea well executed. 

There is then more messing about, multiple betrayals, the demolition of most of a hotel by an attack helicopter, and a mass move by the surviving cast to Chernobyl, which is a) in Russia now, and b) just up the road from Moscow, from which we know that a Maybach saloon nicked in the small hours from Chechens out clubbing can do somewhere between 200 and 350 kph on back roads so that you can drive from Moscow to Chernobyl by four in the morning. Bruce and Son then destroy all the Chernobyl that isn't already destroyed, but mysteriously shrug off radiation poisoning because THE GANG got there ahead of them with Substance 430, which somehow neutralises radiation, in a development which I really think Hollywood oughtn't to be keeping to itself in this modern Fukushima-y world.

Needless to say, the bad guys cop it to a man, and indeed to a hot chick, who gets to watch her dad chucked through the rotor disc of the helicopter she's trying to fly while Bruce Snr is trying to help her crash it. In a move which magnificently failed to warm a single heart in the audience, the chuck-ee gets a shot exactly mirroring Hans Gruber's iconic "Oh bugger, I've been chucked out of a window" moment in the proper Die Hard, and by this stage I was cross enough to hope that they'd got the expression in just the same way; famously McTiernan got Rickman to look appalled by the simple expedient of not telling him that this time they were dropping him for real...

Anyhow, back to the prison escape plot. It doesn't make any sense as it's happening, and it actually manages to make less sense as everyone's secret motivations are revealed. THE GANG are actually working for the oligarch, though the corrupt Minister think they're working for him to help him get the oligarch and sweat "the file" out of him. That's bonkers, but at least it makes sense in the bizarro world context; what's nuts is that the CIA somehow knows enough to put a man into the exact courtroom where this mayhem is going to break out, with an exit plan timed to the minute which includes drone support, but somehow don't have a clue who's behind the mayhem. I can buy the notion of a stupid CIA; it's being stupid to exactly that convenient degree which leaves me baffled.

Anyhow, it's all a horrible mess and a disgrace to the memory of the first, proper, film, which was so damned good I didn't even mind having to walk home eight miles in the middle of the night after I saw it the first time not knowing what to expect, and more importantly not knowing that there was a bus and taxi strike that night. That walk was quite a bit more fun than A Good Day to Die Hard.

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