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MOVIE REVIEW: In fifth installment of franchise, 'A Good Day to Die Hard' ends better than it begins

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Special Photo: Fox John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his son Jack (Jai Courtney) unexpectedly join forces to stop a nuclear weapons heist in "A Good Day to Die Hard."

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

(R)

2 stars out of 4 stars

In "Little Big Man" the grandfather character repeatedly says "it's a good day to die" -- eluding that he feels he's lived an honorable life without regrets and has a clear conscience. In this film, that line is never used and is only employed as a cheap throwaway pun to make us try to forget this is the fifth installment in a franchise that should have been put to rest after the third. There's nothing honorable in overstaying one's welcome more than a series that won't recognize its outlived it's usefulness or appeal.

The good news about "Good Day" is that it's better than the fourth, clocks in at less than 100 minutes and ends better than it begins. The only thing it has in common with the first is that lead character John McClane (Bruce Willis) is still a squinting, smirking, irreverent wing-nut who works more during his off hours than any other cop in the history of law enforcement. It's a "Die Hard" movie in name only.

We know things will not bode well when screenwriter Skip Woods ("Swordfish," "The A-Team") sets the story in Russia and, instead of giving it a 21st century mind-set, reverts back to a threadbare Cold War mentality. While cleverly rewriting a real-life event, everything else Woods includes is recycled and cliched. Every Russian character (none of them played by actual Russians) is a variation on the Boris and Natasha characters from "The Rocky & Bullwinkle" cartoon series. To add to the faux atmosphere, the movie wasn't even shot in Russia, but rather Hungary.

John decides to go to Russia after another NYPD detective gives him a dossier on his son Jack (Jai Courtney). With a list of infractions that spreads over pages, John feels his status as an absentee father allowed Jack to stray, latch on to the wrong element and head down the wrong path. As an early twist indicates, John is completely off base.

In the wake of one of the most jolting jailbreak scenes ever committed to film, Jack escapes with Kamarov (Sebastian Koch), another prisoner who is the target of his former partner in crime, now an influential politician. For the next hour, Jack and John bicker endlessly while trying to stay one step ahead of the politicians' goons. This overlong stretch includes what feels like one continuous, bone-crushing car chase.

When not delivering an all-out assault on the scenes, Woods and hack director John Moore break up the narrative with dialogue-heavy interchanges between various characters that give new definition to the word "static." Scenes that should last mere seconds go on for minutes and very few of them add anything substantial to the plot.

As mentioned above, the movie's last act is the best thing going for it. Not one but two big twists are tossed in and admittedly come as a welcomed shock. They almost negate another tedious action sequence that defies practically every rule of probability and law of physics and allows John to utter his now famous, but forcibly clunky line "yippee-ki-yay [expletive]."

Concluding on a relative whimper, "Good Day" opens up the door for what has surely been bandied about at Fox studios as something along the lines of "Die Hard: The Next Generation." If the movie makes even a modest profit (which is likely given its obvious appeal to European audiences), you can expect Courtney to return as the lead with Willis showing up as a supporting character.

The biggest challenge facing the studio won't be coming up with a script; all they'll have to do is toss the previous five in a blender and pour the concoction into a standard screenwriting software program. The tough part will be the title. It will have to be something catchy, recycled and easy to remember; anything except the number six. (Fox)