Bloomberg News

Willis Dies Bored; Pretty ‘Creatures’; ‘Safe Haven’: Film

February 13, 2013

'A Good Day to Die Hard'

Jai Courtney and Bruce Willis as CIA agent Jack McClane and his father John, an NYPD detective, in the fifth "Die Hard" film. The McClanes are in battle to stop a nuclear weapons heist. Photographer: Frank Masi/Twentieth Century Fox via Bloomberg

This isn’t 1986, a Russian bad guy reminds Bruce Willis in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

Don’t we know it.

Loud with nothing to say, “Good Day” joins recent duds from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a trifecta of pointless wallows in ’80s action nostalgia.

Under John Moore’s chaotic, illogical direction, this once- clever franchise has devolved into something between comic book and Looney Tunes, with Willis’ John McClane surviving not on brains, muscle or wisecrack, but cinematic convenience.

Explosions, crashes, beatings, leaps from tall buildings -- Willis’ McClane smirks them off, his bald dome barely bloodied. Nothing resembling a human reaction -- fear, defiance, anger, boredom -- registers in this phoned-in performance.

This time around, McClane is in Moscow to rescue his estranged son, a CIA agent (Jai Courtney, of Starz’s “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”) assigned to protect a Russian whistleblower with secrets about the Chernobyl disaster.

Action and absurdities commence from the get-go, with the just-arrived McClane literally bumping into a getaway car driven by son Jack (who’s still angry at dad for not spending quality time with the family, or something).

“I believed work was all that mattered,” consoles the Russian dissident (Sebastian Koch) as he and the elder McClane ignore nearby explosions and machine-gunfire to bond quietly over ungrateful children.

With a sharper director and the slightest shift in tone, that moment could be a funny little comment on a genre formula that demands wedging personal motivations into sociopolitical machinations.

Moore isn’t that director, and this isn’t that movie.

“A Good Day to Die Hard,” from Twentieth Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: * (Evans)

‘Beautiful Creatures’

Doomed love, redeeming love, premonitory dreams, graveyards, catfights and a Civil War-era curse: “Beautiful Creatures” is scrumptious junk food that perhaps only a teenage audience can fully appreciate. I reverted to 14 as I watched, and ate it up.

Adapted by Richard LaGravenese from Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Young Adult novel, it tells the story of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a South Carolina witch whose pre- destined nature -- good or evil -- will be revealed on her 16th birthday.

“I don’t know who I really am inside,” she frets to her mortal boyfriend, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), speaking for every adolescent who’s ever lived.

Southern Gothic

Inside her Southern Gothic family, there’s a battle for her soul going on. Her louche uncle (Jeremy Irons, with a bad accent) is on the side of the good; her wicked mama (Emma Thompson, whose accent is, predictably, perfect) and her slutty cousin (Emmy Rossum) represent the forces of hell.

Viola Davis, as a sympathetic seer, wears her now signature expression of suffering disgust.

A false move or two and “Beautiful Creatures” would crumble into camp. But except for a joke about Nancy Reagan that will pass over its target audience, the movie is as earnest as Ethan, who’s determined to rescue Lena with his love.

“Beautiful Creatures,” from Warner Bros., is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)

‘Berlin File’

The Cold War isn’t over on the Korean peninsula. So it was logical of writer-director Ryoo Seung-wan to set his breakneck thriller “The Berlin File” in the long-divided German capital that was once its emblem.

The movie offers just about all you could ask of a genre flick: poisonings, defections, a secret North Korean bank account, gloriously choreographed fights that go insanely over the top, febrile tension and doomy romance (but no sex).

Ryoo throws out so much so fast that the opening arms deal/gun battle/rooftop chase, crowded with agents from at least five countries, may seem indecipherable. For a moment, I despaired. By the end, though, as in most thrillers, the story has come down to an elemental battle.

At its heart is a loyal North Korean couple (Ha Jung-woo and Gianna Jun) who start to suspect that somebody on their side is setting them up. They eye one another warily.

These actors have far more to do than jump off buildings and dodge gunfire. Passions flare. Tragedy hovers as a threat and the climax rises to grand opera.

But Ryoo also has a sly touch. His capper -- an unexpected phone call -- ends the picture with a sharp little stab.

“The Berlin File,” from CJ Entertainment, opens Friday in selected cities across North America. Rating: **** (Seligman)

‘Safe Haven’

Is she guilty? A knife has been wielded ... a woman has fled ... and what a cute coastal town she lands in. What a handsome widower she hooks.

He’s dreamy, she’s perky, and the movie, “Safe Haven,” is as pretty and bland as a boy band, until its final half hour of fireworks, flames and gunfire. Nicholas Sparks wrote the novel; Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star; Lasse Hallstrom directed. I can only hope he did it for the money.

“Safe Haven,” from Relativity Media, is playing across the U.S. Rating: * (Seligman)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and D.C. Scene.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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