Russian roulette: Bruce Willis in back (again) in A Good Day To Die Hard; Star-studded cast distinguishes Dustin’s directorial debut Quartet

by Mark Burger

Even the most die-hard Die Hard devotee won’t rank the latest film, A Good Day to Die Hard , among the best of the (thus-far) five-film franchise. This is, after all, a sequel. Adjust expectations accordingly. But, for those looking for a quick action fix and a few trademark Bruce Willis wisecracks, the film delivers on modestly entertaining terms.

In what has become his signature role as New York cop John McClane, Willis is the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, again. McClane’s in Russia this time around, which lends some’  international flavor to the otherwise predictable proceedings. There are guns to be fired, cars to be crashed and property to be damaged. Par for the course.

Joining McClane this time is his son Jack (Jai Courtney), an undercover CIA operative whose latest mission in Moscow goes up in smoke just in time for Dad’s arrival. As they draw fire, they also draw closer. Most everyone else, of course, gets blown apart.

The father/son dilemma, which yields screenwriter Skip Woods’ hokiest dialogue, tends to be a distraction. A Good Day to Die Hard works best when the guns are blazing and the bodies are falling, not when characters are airing out their personal grievances.

To say that the concept’s novelty has worn thin would be an understatement; so successful was the original Die Hard that there were literally dozens of imitations and knock-offs, in addition to the legitimate sequels.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead encores briefly from the last Die Hard as daughter Lucy McClane, and Cole Hauser turns up as Jack’s CIA contact in Moscow (he doesn’t last long). Sebastian Koch, Radivoje Bukvic and sultry Yuliya Snigir are among the Russians, some of whom aren’t what they initially seem and all of whom end up in harm’s way, which is to be expected.

Director John Moore made his big-screen bow in 2001 with Behind Enemy Lines (good thing Gene Hackman was in it), followed by the 2004 remake of Flight of the Phoenix (which wasn’t bad), the 2006 remake of The Omen (which wasn’t good) and the much-derided video-game adaptation of Max Payne (2008). By default, A Good Day to Die Hard is one of his better pictures — which doesn’t say much about his directorial inspiration. To the film’s credit, there’s a nifty car chase early on and an amusingly overblown climactic dust-up at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. No points for guessing who’s the last man standing… or last men standing, as the case may be.

Quartet , which is adapted from Ronald Harwood’s play by the author and marks the belated directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, is overly sentimental, rarely unpredictable and frequently maudlin.

None of that really matters, because this feelgood crowd-pleaser feels very good indeed, thanks to a 24-karat cast including Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon, who occupy their roles with effortless, comfortable aplomb. These veteran actors make it look easy, and together they make Quartet a heartwarming, enjoyable diversion.

In keeping with its stage origins, much of the story takes place in Beecham House, a respite for retired entertainers in the English countryside. The latest arrival is Jean (Smith), a legendary diva known by one and all — particularly Reggie (Courtenay), to whom she was once married.

Beecham House depends not only on the kindness of donors but also the proceeds from its annual fundraising gala, which features the residents in performance, recapturing — or trying to — a moment in the spotlight.

In addition to Jean and Reggie, the other members of the title quartet are Wilfred (Connolly, in his element), the resident silver-tongued lothario, and Cecily (Collins), whose flighty behavior — so endearing in her youth — is now a clear indicator that she’s sliding into dementia. One of their signature performances in the past was Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, which is precisely the one chosen for the gala.

Unabashedly awash in nostalgia, Quartet stacks the deck with its appealing cast, who bring dignity and passion to their often-temperamental characters. Courtenay in particular enjoys one of his best screen roles in a long time.

It’s also nice to see such veterans as Andrew Sachs (fondly remembered from “Fawlty Towers”), Gwyneth Jones, John Rawnsley, Michael Byrne, Ita Herbert and Patricia Loveland — and who better to play Cedric, the lovably bombastic maestro of the performance, than Michael Gambon? He even appears to still be wearing some of his Dumbledore costumes from the Harry Potter films, which doesn’t seem at all out of place in these surroundings.

LOG ONTO — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”