Friday, March 22, 2013

"G" is for A Good Day to Die Hard

 Somewhere in the bowels of 20th Century Fox, the dank recesses where mid-level executives and producers are relegated, a day came along like any other. But this day would be different, as it would be a good day. Wallowing in its own filth, one enterprising young junior executive wondered aloud "why not make another Die Hard film?" and instead of climb across the table and gouge his eyes out with a pen (the customary Hollywood form of saying "why would we do a stupid thing like that?"), the other mouth breathing trolls agreed. It had been a long time since Live Free or Die Hard for, after all, six years in Hollywood time is an eternity (nearly half the requisite period to wait to remake a Spider-Man film), so they scrawled out their horrible idea with fecal matter and shuttled it up to the dungeon where regular producers dwell.

 Preparations were made: a dump truck was loaded with money and driven to Bruce Willis' mansion, on the off chance the the one-two punch of Moonrise Kingdom and Looper had fooled him into thinking he was "above" slumming around as John McClane, but they needn't have worried. Of course he'll say yes, on the provision he's allowed to appear as disinterested as possible in the film. But they needed a screenplay, and more importantly they needed a director with no vision of his own, so there was no chance of straying from focus group tested notes about what a Die Hard audience would like*.

 Fortunately, the writer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine literally had nothing better to do. Better still, the director of Max Payne, The Omen remake, Behind Enemy Lines, and Flight of the Phoenix the remake (what do they all have in common other than being unremarkable at best? They were all made at 20th Century Fox!) was schedule to be released back into the wild, having fulfilled his period of indentured servitude to the studio, but someone has slashed the tires to his 1983 Gremlin**. He would need money to pay for new tires, and Die Hard movies always make money!

But where to set this latest Die Hard, and what to call it? Well, one of the unpaid interns had a mock-up poster with the tagline "Yipee-ki-yay, Mother Russia" that was originally designed to mock Live Free or Die Hard's PG-13 rating, so let's demote him to janitor and set the movie in Moscow! And Chernobyl, because as far as audiences are concerned, it's all the same place.

 They could bring back Mary Elizabeth Winstead to play Lucy McClane, but in the interest of not paying much for another returning cast member (except for a contractually mandated "one scene on camera and one scene in voice-over / phone call"), let's just hire some interchangeable twenty-something guy, slap an American accent on him, and hope that audiences remember McClane has a son, too (it's in the picture in Die Hard! It counts! Continuity!).

 And so we have John McClane and John McClane, Jr. - one is still a cop and the other has been a CIA operative since some time between Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard - and because they are also estranged, somehow nobody doing Jr.'s background check ever contacted the supercop who killed both Gruber brothers, Colonel Stuart, General Ramon Esperanza***, and cyber terrorist Thomas Gabriel. Never even called to check that reference. Never occurred to them.

 Anyway. since all that matters are the "'splosions," McClane has to go to Moscow because his son has been arrested. How can he help? Why was his son in Moscow? Why does McClane keep saying "I'm on vacation!" when that's not why he's there at all? What does the bad guy want? Which one is the bad guy? Who cares? It's a DIE HARD movie, assholes! It's rated R this time!!!

 I could complain about the incomprehensible editing in the car chase at the beginning or the myriad lapses in logic in the plot, but it's beside the point. 20th Century Fox as a corporate entity and the gaggle of suits and money men behind the decision to make a fifth Die Hard film didn't care about the plot of the movie. They didn't even care that it was a movie, because to them A Good Day to Die Hard is a product, a calculated effort designed to maximize grosses in theaters and home video.

 There's a trickle down effect to this lack of giving a shit, because when the powers that be clearly don't care what the movie is so much as it's done under budget and in time for release and the star of the film mumbles his way through the script with the bare minimum required of his presence, then the rest of the crew starts messing around. Foley artists are emboldened to use comical punching sound effects that would be right at home in a cartoon. The props department selects a comically oversized machine gun for Bruce Willis to pick up off of the floor of a CIA "safe house". The result of their collective disinterest makes A Good Day to Die Hard not only seem lazy, but comically inept to boot.

 Somewhere along the line, I suspect at least one of the basement dwelling junior executives (who will remain as such until he slays and consumes a middle executive) thought it would be a good idea to fool audiences into thinking that Live Free or Die Hard wasn't as bad as they remembered it being, and that was partially in mind while "making" A Good Day to Die Hard. That John McClane ceased to be the everyman from the first two films and somehow swapped places with Willis' superhero from Unbreakable was irrelevant to the crew and the star.

 But, as we all know, 20th Century Fox didn't need divining warlocks or the deal that fell apart at the last second - one that would turn every screening of the film into something resembling the movie Demons - to ensure the success of a film scraping double digits in critical reviews. Nope, bad word of mouth still brought in audiences for the opening weekend, and eventually it'll recoup its budget and make way for Die Hard 6. It's what the masses want, even if they don't think they do. They recognize the name, and until Willis no longer has the clout to prevent an inevitable remake, Fox will keep up with the law of diminishing returns. I'm sure that Bonnie Bedelia is at home right now, unplugging her phone in anticipation of the McClane "reunion" that nobody's asking for. I mean, it's not like Samuel L. Jackson, Reginald VelJohnson, or the guy who played Argyle are going to turn it down...

 It's hard NOT to be cynical about this, because when something this patently manufactured just to get asses in seats (not to enjoy the film, but just to show up) does, in fact, succeed, then why bother trying to make a good Die Hard movie? Cash in on the name, make the last one look better by comparison, and release a reasonably priced box set later in the year with all five movies, knowing full and well that people will pay for two movies they'll never watch again. You don't even need to be a troll living in the bowels of 20th Century Fox to know that'll work.

 * The focus group indicated that they would like a movie that wasn't anything like Die Hard, but if it had they same name they wouldn't forget what they were going to see, so this would be fine.
** I know what you're thinking, but it turned out this was simply a fortuitous coincidence for all involved parties.
*** Played by Django's Franco Nero - see what I did there? Tenuous connection!

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