I felt a little bit conned by 20th Century Fox when I drove all the way into Chicago to see John McTiernan's new action movie "Die Hard," only to find out that I would be seeing a work print without music, sound effects or corrected color.
It was 1988 and this movie starred a pudgy, comic actor named Bruce Willis, star of the lighthearted TV series "Moonlighting." I braced for the worst.
"A Good Day to Die Hard"★ ½
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
Directed by: John Moore
Other: A 20th Century Fox release. Rated R for language, violence. 97 minutes
When the actors fired their guns, no sound came out. When something blew up, no explosion. No music heightened the tension or augmented the few soft moments. The color looked splotchy, terrible.
An hour and 54 minutes later, I came out of "Die Hard" exhausted and giddy. This movie had me the moment a freshly buffed Willis blurted "Yipee ki yay!" I was prepared to award it four stars without the sound effects. Yes, it was that intense.
I relate this story as a preamble to my review of the fourth "Die Hard" sequel, John Moore's "A Good Day to Die Hard" to explain why it's a hollow echo of the original "Die Hard" experience.
Actually, it's worse than that, "Good Day" is a shallow, heartless, witless, soulless, poorly written, flabbily edited, big-budget Hollywood blockbuster saturated with numbing spectacle and unrelenting video-game gunplay.
This movie has been designed for the eyes and ears while paying minimal lip service to the heart and head, nothing like the 1988 original, a surprisingly personal drama about New York cop John McClane trying to save his estranged wife from harm.
In "Good Day," Willis keeps his much larger frame covered in loosefitting clothes as McClane travels to Russia to find his estranged and bitterly angry son Jack (Jai Courtney), not realizing he has secretly been working for the CIA to find a hidden stash of weapons-grade uranium.
At the 19-minute mark comes the first chase sequence, and it's an overkill doozy. A group of Russian gangsters detonates car bombs outside a courthouse where a dissident named Yuri (Sebastian Koch) is being tried on trumped-up charges, apparently because he refuses to turn over a valuable file to a sleazebag former partner.
Yuri escapes with Jack as the gangsters move in to finish off survivors. In seconds, Jack and Yuri in one vehicle are pursued by the gangsters -- led by Alik (apparently the Russian version of Matt Dillon) -- in a monster military truck out of "The Road Warrior." McClane steals a third vehicle and the steel-smashing, glass-shattering, tire-screeching, never-ending demolition derby begins.
Here, the combination of director John "Max Headroom" Moore and screenwriter Skip "The A-Team" Woods proves to be toxic.
The obligatory father-son reconciliation possesses the sincerity and emotion of a car collision. Far too early into the story, without provocation, the two macho guys halfheartedly declare their love for each other by saying intimate things such as "I've got your back."
This completely guts a coulda-been great scene later when, at a dramatically decisive moment, Yuri pleads to Jack to trust him.
"You know me," Yuri pleads. Jack pauses, looks at his father, and replies, "Yes, I know you ... but I know him better!" That was the money moment and neither the director nor writer realized it.
Just like they didn't realize that their badly used slow-motion shots turn a climactic helicopter crash into an excruciatingly lengthy bit of awkwardness that actually kills the scene's intensity. (Here, Woods should also be brought up on charges of stealing from Willis' earlier movie "The Last Boy Scout.")
"A Good Day to Die Hard" is a far yippee-Ki cry from the first two entries in the "Die Hard" series, which began tanking after they dumped co-star Bonnie Bedelia as his wife in "Die Hard With a Vengeance."
Without the underrated Bedelia's spouse connecting McClane to reality, the series turned its iconic star from a sympathetic beat cop facing overwhelming odds to a heroic version of Jason Voorhees -- unstoppable, unkillable, unbeatable and unbelievable.