02/15/2013 11:05 am ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Movie Review: A Good Day to Skip Die Hard 5

According to box-office pundits, A Good Day to Die Hard (on further reference: Die Hard 5) will be the big box-office winner this holiday weekend.

It will reassert Bruce Willis' box-office magnetism. And it will do it while kicking dirt on the aspirations of his two vintage rivals, Sylvester Stallone (Bullet to the Head) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), each of whom had a non-franchise comeback film crash and burn at the American box office in the past month (foreign markets will be another story).

Which is discouraging, given the major difference between Willis' latest vehicle as hard-charging cop John McClane and the Stallone and Schwarzenegger films: the level of cynicism. Where Stallone and Schwarzenegger were trying to embody new (if familiar) characters and try to rework an old formula, Willis' Die Hard 5 has taken the formula and distilled it into schtick. They've eliminated the need for McClane to do anything except shoot guns, look pissed and spout reductive one-liners about how life has cast him as a one-man wrecking crew who is a trouble magnet -- and trouble's worst enemy.

In the early installments of this saga, which began with 1988's Die Hard, McClane was an ordinary guy, a cop who happened to walk into a bad situation - and then another and another. Terrorist-securities thieves, rogue American military, a guy threatening to take down the power grid on the East Coast -- somehow, their elaborate plans trip over an untied shoestring named John McClane.

And, for the most part, as increasingly preposterous as most of the plots were, they were at least offered with a straight face. By the point McClane gets to this fifth outing, he's like Roger Moore in one of those early-1980s James Bond abominations, like Octopussy or For Your Eyes Only: carried along by the conventions of the form and commenting on them, rather than simply being part of them. Suddenly he's a guy who goes looking for people to kill, instead of fighting for his life.

The plot, such as it is, has McClane flying to Moscow, because his son, John Jr. (Jai Courtney), has been arrested. Before he knows it, he's walked into the middle of a jail break from a Moscow prison and is helping Junior escape, along with a political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch). The younger McClane harbors harsh feelings for Dad, who was absentee because he spent so much time working as a cop. Which is why Junior never mentioned he was a covert CIA operative working undercover in Russia.

A combination of daredevil stunt drivers, special-effects artists and a fleet of disposable cars create a couple of combination chase-demolition-derby sequences on the Moscow streets and highways that are breath-taking. They distract you long enough to prevent thoughts about how weak the dialogue and the plotting are.

Most of the problems fall squarely on the unremarkable work of director John Moore, whose career has consisted of such highlights as a remake of The Omen and a videogame adaptation, Max Payne. The writer is Skip Wood, a hack of the genre whose most notable title, Swordfish, barely floats about such sodden outings as Hitman and The A-Team.

They reduce McClane to a caricature. As he fights his way across Moscow, Willis alternately says, "I'm supposed to be on vacation" and "Let's go kill people," uttering each several times in a variety of ways, as though McClane is some bloodthirsty joker wielding a machine-gun and a clutch of punchline/catchphrases.

If the box-office predictions hold true, this film confirms the conventional wisdom: People want what's familiar, no matter how hackneyed and repetitive. Which is why we are awash in a wave of sequels and remakes such as this one.

The Die Hard series had a success rate of a solid 75 percent after Die Hard 4, but Die Hard 5 signals the demise of these films. It is nothing more than lazy, big-budget film-making, a piece of product scrubbed clean of wit and imagination.

Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.