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Daughter Lucy McClane (Winstead, who has a cameo role here) played a major role in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, but in this fifth entry in the Die Hard series we meet John McClane’s son, who was featured only briefly in the background of the first movie. McClane (Willis) thinks his son, Jack (Courtney), is a massive screwup and probably involved with drugs, so he’s not surprised when he learns that Jack is in jail. He immediately heads to Russia to help, but soon finds the trouble is even deeper and more complex than he originally thought.
Assuming no other explanation than his son’s ineptitude, McClane moves into full action mode when there occurs a massive assault on the courtroom where Jack is being tried. It looks as though Jack has become inadvertently involved in a prison break, along with one of the country’s leading prisoners, who is a former billionaire (Koch). McClane steps in to help straighten things out. It turns out that the son has an equally low opinion of the father, whom he continually tells to get lost. The plot – which takes a while to get going, not in terms of action but in creating interest – is a series of long, violent set-pieces. These include convoluted twists and turns, narrative feints and parries, as it moves ahead at ever-increasing speeds. An extended car chase across Moscow seems to destroy a significant percentage of the city’s automobiles.
Australian actor Courtney does the honors as the younger McClane, skillfully matching Willis in action sequences, one-liners, and more extended repartee. The issue of Willis’ age is readily acknowledged, but doesn’t create a problem since the character has always been more about perseverance than superhuman strength. The Die Hard films, including this one, are like Road Runner cartoons – a collection of oversized acts of brutal destruction with McClane on the receiving end as Wile E. Coyote, who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time, encountering explosions, car crashes, endless volleys of ammunition, and large falling objects aimed straight at him, but which he somehow manages to survive.
A strong cast of fresh faces is directed here by John Moore, who last helmed Max Payne in 2008. Appropriate to a series about pyrotechnics rather than consequences, exaggeration rather than mimetic reality, cinematic joyriding rather than any attempt at meaning, the film has an enclosed and somewhat apocalyptic ending at Chernobyl. (Die Hard fans will probably want to add an extra half-star to this review.)