There is a difference between acting and performing. Actors portray a character who is usually somewhat different from themselves. And hopefully, who is different from the other characters they have portrayed and will portray.
Then there are performers. Now by dictionary definition, all actors are performers in one way or another. But to illustrate the difference, look at the work of two men who call themselves actors. Jason Statham and Daniel-Day Lewis.
There is no significant difference between the characters that Statham has “performed” thus far in his career. They’re all tough, ruthless to a degree, lacking in emotion and so on. On the other hand, the characters Day-Lewis has portrayed range widely. From a beloved president, to a ruthless crime lord and a young man wrongly imprisoned. Very different characters, and brought to life with the skill of a seriously talented actor.
What’s so disappointing in the fifth installment of the Die Hard films is that Bruce Willis has the chops. He’s shown them in outstanding performances in movies like Moonrise Kingdom and Nobody’s Fool. Even the first four iterations of his “John McLane” had a modicum of substance and depth, although it faded a bit from the very strong work he did in the first film 25 years ago. It isn’t all his fault. He’s saddled with a badly written script and a director (John Moore) who is more interested in pyrotechnics, bullets and blood than anything else. Moore has shown he can make decent action dramas as he did with Behind Enemy Lines. Heck, Owen Wilson was believable in that as a Navy fighter pilot.
Somehow, in spite of the previous suspensions and who knows what else, John McClane is once again a NYPD detective. His children are grown, and his son “John Jr.” (Jai Courtney) is in trouble in Russia. He’s in prison. So John, having been a neglectful father and feeling suffused with guilt over it, decides to go to Russia to see if he can help. His adult daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) knows him well, and gives him wise counsel as she drops him at the airport.
But John Jr. is not really in prison to be punished, he’s there on a mission for the CIA. It involves stopping the ascent to power of a corrupt Russian government official named “Chagarin” (Sergey Kolesnikov), by using evidence in the possession of “Yuri Kamarov” (Sebastian Koch), a whistleblower and political prisoner. Junior is going to bust Kamarov out and spirit him out of the country with the file, to bring about the downfall of Chagarin. But Karamov isn’t going anywhere without his daughter, “Irina” (Yulia Snigir).
Cross, double-cross and thugs who appear to be in the employ of one but are revealed to work for another follow. McClane Senior and Junior team up to take on all the bad guys, while preventing the real aim of the real bad guy, the theft of enriched uranium from a vault in Chernobyl.
One must go beyond serious suspension of disbelief to enjoy this error-ridden pablum that ignores continuity and scientific fact. However, it has plenty of action, bad one-liners and a lead actor who may be tired of this role but not the eight figure paychecks that come with it. As action-adventure films go it isn’t awful or even all that bad. In light of how good the first entry in the franchise was, and remains 25 years later, it is a major disappointment.