As even one of the thugs in the tired, monotonous, and generally unnecessary A Good Day to Die Hard notes, this isn’t the ’80s anymore. And this fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise, which is now 25 years old, has none of the fresh wallop of the first one. There’s plenty of the old full-auto gunfire, incendiary interjections, and crashy-bashy automotive tumult; but director John Moore—whose last film was the 2008 video-game dud Max Payne—can’t seem to shape much of this into coherent scenes, or to impart anything like a rousing pace to the action. The movie is basically one long stretch of maximum noise and flying debris, with occasional time-outs to indulge a soupy sorrows-of-fatherhood motif that all but demands audience mockery.
Bruce Willis once again plays John McClane, the New York cop (now ex-) who keeps getting drawn into battle with international terrorists. This time he’s off to Moscow, where his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested and suddenly become a witness for the prosecution in the trial of a noble political prisoner named Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch, of The Lives of Others). As it happens, Komarov is in possession of an incriminating file that is urgently coveted by a big-time bad guy named Viktor (Sergey Kolesnikov), and by the American CIA as well. And as it further turns out, Jack is actually a CIA agent who has been assigned to rescue Yuri, secure the file, and at the same time—at Yuri’s insistence—reunite the old man with his beautiful daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir), as well.
No sooner does McClane arrive outside the court building where the trial is taking place than a herd of heavily armed gangsters attacks, intent on snatching Yuri away. In the ensuing confusion, Jack escapes, with Yuri in tow. McClane spots them, commandeers a truck, and takes off in pursuit. Soon they’ve united to lay hands on Yuri’s file, which is locked away in a vault somewhere. What’s in this thing? After quite a bit more machine-gunnery, we learn that the file is connected in a complicated way to the famous Chernobyl disaster. Talk about back-to-the-’80s.
None of the mess that this movie is can be blamed on Bruce Willis, whose customary appeal is pretty much bulletproof. But the script, by Skip Woods, offers the star little in the way of snappy lines. (He keeps yelling “I’m on vacation!” whenever another hail of bullets erupts.) And since McClane is now presented as an old-school action codger, it falls to young Jack to inject some whippersnapper energy into the proceedings—something at which he’s not terribly successful. (I thought it was also a distraction that Jai Courtney himself resembles a Russian thug—not unlike the one he recently played in Jack Reacher.) Rasha Bukvic has some lively moments as a wisecracking gangster, but again, the script provides him with no really killer lines.
There’s no end of vehicular destruction here, some of it skillfully staged (or CGI’d) if not particularly well-shot. And an elaborate helicopter assault toward the end of the film might be said to be something to see. If only you could see it in a better movie.
Just when you might have thought the Twilight years were finally behind us, here comes…
Well, no, that’s not quite fair. Very much like the 2008 Twilight, Beautiful Creatures is based on the first of four very long young-adult (read: teen-girl) fantasy-romance novels. Once again we have an unsuspecting human adolescent falling in love with a mysterious supernatural schoolmate. This time, though, the love-struck mortal is hunky Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), and the otherworldly love interest is beguiling Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Lena is recently returned to her ancestral South Carolina home, a sprawling estate called Ravenwood, where she lives with her flamboyantly theatrical Uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) and a rather confusing array of odd relatives. The fictitious town of Gatlin, where the story is set, is a standard Bible-beating backwater, and local dislike of Ravenwood and its spooky inhabitants dates back to the Civil War. Thus, Lena is greeted on her first day at the local high school with disdain and mockery—although, of course, not by Ethan.
Right off the bat, it must be said that Ehrenreich is a far more appealing—i.e., less sappy—presence than Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, which is enough to establish this movie’s superior quality in itself. And Englert, the daughter of New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, is both dark and dewy in a way that’s more compelling than even the talented Kristen Stewart was able to manage in the Twilight films. Score two for Beautiful Creatures.
The story, if not its unfolding, is fairly straightforward. Lena and her family are Casters, gifted with various magical abilities that can be used for either good or evil. The determination of which path they’ll take occurs when they turn 16—and Lena’s sixteenth birthday is right around the corner.
The movie is enriched by a number of famous actors—some of whom would have to be said to be slumming. Jeremy Irons digs into his Southern drawl as if it were a bottomless fruit salad. And Emma Thompson, as a puritanical town lady whose body and mind are taken over by a powerful Ravenwood Caster called Sarafine, shows no hesitation in goosing her lurid character all the way into overkill (which is not to say she isn’t entertaining). Viola Davis is also on hand to bring some weight to the part of Amma, the housekeeper who has watched over the motherless Ethan since he was a child (and has some magical secrets of her own). And Emmy Rossum elevates the sexy level whenever she cruises into sight as Ridley Duchannes, the family Siren, whose tight little outfits and bright-red sportscar make her very hard to miss in a nowhere burg like Gatlin.
Director Richard LaGravenese does a pretty good job of holding the movie’s overabundance of elements under control. The Civil War flashbacks drag a bit, and the effects—lightning strikes and epidermal mutations—aren’t really top-notch; but production designer Richard Sherman and Art Director Lorin Flemming have done a sensational job on the interiors of the Ravenwood mansion, which has a different gorgeous look every time we see it.
I think you can already tell whether this is a movie for you. (I know I’m not the target demo.) As for how the story resolves, well, as with the Twilight saga, fans of the books will already know, and movie-going non-readers—should such people exist—will have to be patient. There are three more Beautiful novels in waiting, and this movie has the confident feeling of a franchise kickoff. We’ve been through this before, right?
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