"How can the same s**t happen to the same guy twice?"
It won't be an unfamiliar question to any Die Hard franchise fan, but it's become especially fitting this week thanks to the decision to cut down John McClane's latest high-octane jaunt A Good Day to Die Hard for its UK release, in order to secure a box office-friendly 12A certificate. Back in 2007, the fourth film suffered a similar fate Stateside but was released as an uncut 15 in the UK, so in a sense it's probably our turn to lose out. For a perfect summation of what's been done in aid of the lower rating, look no further than the ruthless butchering of McClane's most iconic foul-mouthed catchphrase.
None of this would matter if it weren't so symptomatic of everything that is wrong with this fifth instalment. There's no particular need for an any action film to carry an 18 – or even a 15 – rating in order to compel, but the Die Hard films have always functioned best when allowed off the leash.
Everything about A Good Day to Die Hard, from the gratuitously destructive car chases to the obligatory series in-jokes to Bruce Willis's weary, half-hearted central turn, feels like an obligation. Any supposedly straightforward action flick that leaves you half rooting for a cabal of shady Russian mobster types to win out over the wisecracking good guys is doing something seriously, fundamentally wrong.
Jai Courtney injects some sorely-needed new blood into proceedings as wayward son Jack McClane, whose adventures in Moscow have got him into the kind of trouble that only McClane Sr can resolve. His daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has conveniently overcome all of her previous issues with her dad and seems to have transferred one or two directly to her newly-cast brother, presumably because Winstead now knows better than to sign on for more than two days of this stuff.
Once John touches down on Russian soil, though, he realises just how close to the tree this particular apple has fallen, and after the requisite three scenes' worth of good-natured macho bickering, father and son team up to take down a gang of campy baddies who are planning a nuclear weapons heist. Ironically given the film's title, you never believe for a moment that anybody we care about is in any mortal peril whatsoever, and when the stakes are this low it becomes tougher to overlook the knuckle-headed character dialogue, which in any case seems designed solely to stem the gaps from one bombastic action set piece to the next.
Courtney is genuinely trying his best, and you can imagine a version of this family conflict being interesting – an alpha father and alpha son continually grappling for dominance – but between the repetitive sniping and Willis's drained demeanour, they come off more like the kind of tetchy married couple you'd go out of your way to avoid.
The scale of the action is undeniably jaw-dropping, with one early set piece on a Russian motorway standing out for its sheer metal-crunching exuberance, and director John Moore gets decent mood value out of the foreign setting. But there's no substitute for giving a damn, and there's no time like the present for this moribund franchise to finally take a cue from its title and go into the light.