A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

★★

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Director: John Moore

Release Date: February 14th, 2013 (UK and US)

Genre: Action; Crime; Thriller

Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney

If Jai Courtney wasn’t a younger, less-bald Bruce Willis he probably wouldn’t have been part of A Good Day to Die Hard. Similarly, if Live Free or Die Hard hadn’t scooped up almost $400 million at the box office, six years later we wouldn’t have to sit through this shallowest of John McClane sequels. A total horror-show it ain’t, but apparently some people don’t think cricket is boring and most of us hate that. After a long journey extending all they back to terror in the tower in 1988, there has been a severe breakdown at stop five. Though after two and a half decades spent invariably recycling old material, what more d’you expect?

A less capable, more cigar-and-newspaper-on-a-Sunday-morning appearing John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to Russia upon hearing that his son has had a run-in with the law having been arrested for an assassination attempt. In reality, Jack (Jai Courtney) is an undercover CIA agent working to bring down dangerous and corrupt government official, Viktor Chagarin, although John doesn’t realise this, probably because of that age thing. An explosion coordinated by Chagarin during the resultant trial allows Jack and whistle-blower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) to escape custody, and chaos ensues.

The film is stuck between trying too hard to be slyly comedic on one hand and a serious action flick on the other. The original Die Hard got this mix spot on, mainly because the premise was ridiculously exciting, Willis looked interested and Alan Rickman delivered one of the finest villainous performances in recent cinema history. Here the narrative is a poorly executed mess and Willis looks like a guy who has randomly invaded a film set while on his holidays abroad, perhaps thinking it’s all part of a Russian cultural process. There are also more bad-guys on show than laughs, although having said that you’d be hard-pushed to exude more than a handful chuckles.

The plot then. Wearing more holes than an unending golf course, it doesn’t take long to induce a succession of wearisome head-shakes. After essentially saving the world throughout his previous four films, you’d expect John McClane to have a bit of know-how about him when it comes to dealing with machine-gun wielding terrorists. Apparently not anymore: his first conversation with Jack comes nonchalantly in the presence of bullets harpooning all over the place and the odd explosion going off. Ah, it’s probably to do with the age thing. There are far too many contrivances, the most notable being an endless progression of villains, each one ‘badder’ than the next. It gets so ludicrous that McClane himself to switching sides wouldn’t come as a total shock (hey, that sounds like a better film). I think son Jack gets it right as at one point he alludes to, “Making it up as we go”.

Sticking with Jai Courtney, he’s not a bad actor at all. In fact he’s fairly decent in this given the retched dialogue that’s being spluttered about: “But I’m your father”; “And I’m your daughter,” is probably the worst of a bad bunch that collectively cannot be saved by ‘knock, knock’ jokes or even former franchise favourites (“Yippee ki-yay…”). Willis’ spark as McClane is non-existent; the eccentric hero has turned charisma vacuum. Again the script really doesn’t help matters and there aren’t any outlandish sequences that give Willis the platform to be his glorious former action-star self, however the man simply looks like he really cannot be bothered with it all. One of the major let downs of the entire film is how little the super-talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead is utilised. McClane’s daughter was introduced in the previous outing and is relegated to a beginning and end cameo. Her only real contribution is offering McClane an ‘Idiot’s Travel Guide’ before his journey to Russia. That must be another age joke then. Given the lack of intuition on display, her scarcity is even more criminal.

On the plus side the action scenes do look great, having evolved to even grander scale this time around. In particular the helicopter scene at the end is excellently executed and actually gives the film a bit of oomph to clutch onto towards its climax. Unfortunately no visual escapade can save proceedings, and the only other glaring positive to take from A Good Day to Die Hard is that you only have to sit through an hour and a half before checking it off your list of films never to sit through again. The sheer disappointment stems from the franchise’s previous successes, principally the pleasantly surprising Live Free or Die Hard, and therefore there can be no excuses dealt in serving up this newest nonsense.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. On this evidence you can’t teach an old dog much else either. If only McClane had made do with living free, nevertheless, this is probably a good day for the Die Hard adventure to die hard.

Taken 2 (2012)

★★

Director: Olivier Megaton

Release Date: October 4th, 2012 (UK); October 5th, 2012 (US)

Genre: Action; Crime; Thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

For a moderately more age-wise gentleman — compared to that of an average action star — Liam Neeson carries out his fair share of ass-kickings in Taken 2. This would not be a problem on the following bases: the film in question is a comedy and/or parody of action, such as RED; Neeson gets lucky once or twice, perhaps via enemy mistake; Neeson has capable assistance… or at the very least, assistance. Unfortunately none of these three apply in Taken 2, and along with a far too coincidental and convoluted plot, the novelty of a 60-year-old Liam Neeson overcoming gang of thugs after gang of thugs has worn off a tad since 2008.

Set primarily in Istanbul and sometime after the events of its predecessor, Taken 2 sees Bryan Mills, his estranged wife Lenore and daughter Kim, once again the targets of a group of criminals led by the man whose son Mills killed previously. After the trio find themselves separated and hunted by the vicious mobsters, it is down to Mills to rescue his family and put an end to the terror they have suffered at the hands of the Albanian gang.

90 percent of the problems which Taken 2 faces stem from the derisory plot that the film is ungratefully saddled with. Firstly, it is far too coincidental. Suspension of disbelief is a key factor in enjoying a film, but when a film is trying to be taken (ahem) as seriously as Taken 2 is, there has to be a degree of realism surrounding it. Instead, a number of events just happen to occur at the correct time, without justification. For instance, near the beginning of the film Neeson’s character Bryan Mills just happens to find his estranged wife upset at her house after her partner just happened to cancel their significant plans a few moments before. Okay, perhaps this case of coincidence is just a one-off — it is possible, right? Fast-forward a few scenes and, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, Neeson is in the midst of leaving his wife and daughter a message on their phone when, out of nowhere, they appear behind him. When a film is delivering by way of captivating its audience, inconsequential issues such as these would not be brought to fruition in any way. Taken 2 struggles to live up to the pulsating levels set by the first film, and therefore the viewer has nothing better to do than be distracted by coincidence. Did I mention that Neeson’s daughter Kim, played by Maggie Grace, has a squabble with her father over the importance of driving lessons at the start of proceedings? No reason.

The film also fails to place its characters in sensible scenarios, resulting in not only the story feeling unrealistic, but also the characters being perceived as slightly hokey. At one point, Kim is throwing loud, destructive grenades around the busiest city in Turkey, yet somehow manages to draw very little attention to herself. For someone who got caught by criminals after hiding under a bed(!) in Taken, those are some hefty stealth abilities. The illogical nature of the plot is surprising as the writer, Luc Besson, also wrote the screenplay for the first film (in what looks set to become a series), where goings-on made sense and more often than not had a reason behind them. There are illogical and puzzling tendencies aplenty this time around though, including a scene involving apparent intentional friendly fire which, again, makes absolutely no sense when taking into account the opening few minutes of the film.

As mentioned just a moment ago, Taken 2 is written by the same individual who wrote the gritty, hard-hitting and pleasantly surprising Taken — Luc Besson. In Taken, Besson created a visceral story with simplicity and some of the most quotable dialogue in recent cinema history. In Taken 2, he has recreated Taken with very little of that peppered around the story. The novelty of the first film was the rebirth of Liam Neeson as an action star, and a pretty believable one at that. Sadly, this novelty seems to have vanished in the sequel and Neeson does not quite come across as affirming and in control as he did previously. That is not to say that he — nor any of the other cast members — are particularly poor in their roles, rather they all provide solid performances. This time around however, there is hardly anything memorable about their portrayals.

The film is not without some merit. The action scenes are efficiently choreographed and succinctly delivered throughout, providing just about all the entertainment there is to be had. An action film’s number one priority is to deliver enjoyable fight and chase sequences, and Taken 2 does that. It also looks terrific, with the contrast between the colourful wealthy parts of Istanbul, to the grey, gravelly sections of the criminal underworld, adding an immersing setting to the film. Director Olivier Megaton does not set out to make a bad film and in all honesty Taken 2 is not a horrible, unwatchable mess — nowhere near that. It just could have been a whole lot better.

It is fitting that the song played over the credits is one associated with a television advert, because Taken 2 essentially feels like an extended advert for Taken. At its very best, the film is little more than a run-of-the-mill action flick.

Towards the end, Liam Neeson rebuffs a question with, “Because I’m tired of it all.” Me too Liam.

Me too.

Credit: The Movie Mash
Credit: The Movie Mash

Genre Toppers

Having spent the past few days thinking about different ideas and topics to write about, I have come up with a new ‘feature’, if you will.

Instead of primarily relaying new film announcements or reviewing recent film releases (which I will still do, obviously) I think it is time to write about my some of favourite films that I have had the pleasure of viewing throughout my nineteen years of existence.

However, rather than just creating a generic top ten list, I have decided to focus on particular genres and decipher my favourite films encompassed by each genre. I have yet to decide how many genres I will include, but you can count on the usual ones being in there (drama, horror, sci-fi, action, comedy and so on).

The plan is to lay out five top films in each genre and then give a sort of ‘mini-review’ of each film, basically outlining why I like the film so much.

Watch out for my first genre list which will be available to read either later today or tomorrow, and will be titled something like “CBF’s Genre Toppers: (insert genre)”. CBF stands for Consumed by Film, but you already knew that.

The word ‘genre’ is really getting on my nerves now.