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A good day to die hard poster

The Die Hard franchise, like the James Bond films that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprise a record of Hollywood’s search for the new enemy that would confront the free world or at least provide fear fodder for the moviegoing public.  A product of the years that witnessed the Cold War’s ragged, anticlimactic end, Die Hard points to terrorism and asymmetric conflict as the coming trend, with ostensibly idealistic but actually greedy German terrorists taking hostages in an L.A. high-rise.  Inspired by the Iran-Contra controversy, Die Hard 2 finds a threat in the Cold War residue of the mercenary anticommunist armies created to aid dictators in America’s proxy wars in the Third World, and Die Hard with a Vengeance also features directionless mercenaries as a terrorist danger.  With the rise of the internet, 9/11, the War on Terror, and the domestic police state having intervened in the decade separating the third film from the next installment in the series, the superlative Live Free or Die Hard milks suspenseful chaos from the double-edged sword of the omnipresent cyber-surveillance state, but (like the more recent Skyfall) targets hackers rather than statists as the biggest threat to America.

Now, with its latest entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, the venerable action franchise finally appears to be out of compelling ideas and steam.  Set in Russia, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) hopes to reconcile with his CIA assassin son (Jai Courtney, an uninteresting actor with an unappealing face, inexplicably being pushed in high-profile films), A Good Day to Die Hard is an undisciplined, moody, murky, disorienting, and sometimes boring whirl of mostly meaningless action sequences that sweep McClane into an international espionage imbroglio that neither he nor the audience completely understands.  Apart from the familial drama, this story lacks the immediate stakes of the previous Die Hard films, which find McClane reluctantly playing the hero to protect his fellow citizens; now the character appears content to machine-gun foreigners in their own country and wreak massive havoc on their freeways for a lark and without any insight into what he is doing apart from his hope that it will somehow impress his rogue son and restore their damaged rapport.  Astronomical destruction of property, a genocidal body count, and forced sentimentality ensue, much of it filmed with a shaky, erratic pseudodocumentary headache-inducement approach, with the result that A Good Day to Die Hard is easily the most obnoxious and least worthy of the films to bear the prestigious Die Hard banner – and, if anything, perhaps an unfortunate indicator that it is at last a good day for this series of films to just die.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Good Day to Die Hard is:

3. Xenophobic and specifically anti-Russian.  Slavs are secretive, dishonest, violent, eccentric, treacherous, and lust after their parents.

2. Family-ambivalent.  The film celebrates the father-son bond, with McClane regretful of not having played a greater role in his children’s lives.  His marriage to their mother, however, was apparently unsalvageable.

1. Statist and specifically neoconservative.  The Die Hard franchise becomes progressively more accepting of the federal government over the years.  In the first film, representative NYPD and LAPD officers are subject to human frailty and poor judgment, but are also admirable in their toughness and obvious concern for the public.  Their bureaucratic superiors are mostly worthless, however, and the FBI is depicted as incompetent and counterproductive, with one of their snipers a Vietnam veteran and death enthusiast who remembers Saigon fondly.  Bureaucrats and elements of the military are still antagonistic in Die Hard 2, and law enforcement at the local level is the most trustworthy.  This is also the case in Die Hard with a Vengeance, with federal agents depicted as conspiratorial and dopey.

Live Free or Die Hard accepts the posited benevolence of the FBI, but harbors reservations about the competence of newer federal rackets like the Department of Homeland Security.  The principal villain is a former government cyber-security expert run amuck, and the Pentagon is censured as clumsy for underestimating the vulnerability of America’s cyber-infrastructure, but the implication is that more and not less federal might is required.  At the end of that film, McClane is shown wearing an FBI jacket, signifying the oneness of his mission as a police officer with theirs at the national level.

Though the original Die Hard is distinctly Jewish in its perspective, the series has not until now embraced outright neoconservatism.  In A Good Day to Die Hard, McClane at first appears to be skeptical about the usefulness of the spy business, but is quickly persuaded to join the game when he sees what fun it offers with its license to ravage foreign lands with impunity.  The villains here are America’s old enemies, the Russians, still totalitarians at heart (as indicated by the Aeroflot airline’s hammer-and-sickle logo and the “CCCP” tattoo on one brutish thug’s back) and more dangerous than ever since criminal elements among them are peddling those dreaded and demonic “WMDs”, including the material for nuclear bombs.  (The prospective buyers, presumably, are Iran or the highest Islamic jihadist bidder.)  The home defense of previous films is no longer sufficient, and proactive overseas CIA adventurism is now the order of the day.  Early in A Good Day to Die Hard, a framed photograph of Barack Hussein Obama seems to smile on McClane from the wall behind him, bestowing on the loose cannon officer and the film itself a sort of enigmatic blessing (?).

Set aboard a melodrama-plagued pleasure cruise, writer-director Je’Caryous Johnson’s soulful examination of love among African-American couples and singles benefits in energy from being a filmed production of a live play as opposed to a conventional film.  Johnson is a talented jokester with a heart and creates compelling characters brought to vibrant life by an emotionally present and engagingly boisterous all-black cast.  Think Neil Simon keepin’ it real.

A neurotic tension and sense of panic constantly inform Love Overboard, with Johnson portraying African-Americans as a people ever prey to the supernatural forces in their lives, their bodies the eternal, intensely contested battleground of spiritual warfare as they navigate between their fear of God and obsession with sexual satisfaction.  Two types of entity, appropriately, are apostrophized in Love Overboard: Jesus Christ and the male sexual organ.  Love Overboard gets so overheated at times, with a man and woman apparently unable to stop themselves from flying into each other’s arms and grinding in public in one instance, that it starts to make Three’s Company look like I Married Joan.  “Y’all think this is a leg I’m standin’ on, dontcha?  I gotta take my shoe off every time I go pee.”

Running the gamut from shockingly crude to genuinely touching, Love Overboard front-loads most of the bawdy humor and concentrates in its second and third acts on depicting in very human terms people fraught with insecurities and struggling seriously with their relationships, their values, and faith.  The subject of marriage especially frightens and frustrates everyone on the ship.  Those who already are married wonder if staying together is worth the trouble; those unmarried fear the commitment.  Can healthy, excitingly black sex thrive within the constraining cage of a monogamous matrimony?

The ensemble cast is consistently praiseworthy in imbuing the various threads of the story with zany life.  Everyone involved in the production is either highly expressive in speech or song or excels at physical comedy.  Zacardi Cortez, who plays Big Daddy, has the most affecting musical moment; while Rhona Bennett and Tammy Townsend are probably most tender among the women as they hold their end of the line in this floating battle of the sexes.  Je’Caryous Johnson’s humor and humanity as it comes across in his writing probably has the best claim to top billing, however.  Recommended without reservation.  4.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Love Overboard is guaranteed fun and:

6. Anti-gay.  An opening monologue mocks San Francisco Christians.

5. Black Uber Alles.  Racial solidarity seems to be of importance.  Oprah’s book recommendations are valued.  “You rollin’ with Obama?” a woman asks, hearing that one of the men works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Women want a man like Obama: “fine”, “intelligent”, and “able to protect me.”  “Chocolate’s out now that Barack is in,” a lighter-skinned man teases a darker one.  Characters enjoy their own and others’ variations of flavor and blackness.

4. Capitalist.  Despite the suggested endorsement of President Obama, the characters give every evidence of not buying into his demagogic desecration of the American dream.  These are people who, rather than playing the victim and begging for coddling by the welfare state, have succeeded or failed according to their own talents and decisions.  One runs a car dealership; another is a stripper; all work for a living or aim to do so.  “Life is what you make it,” Russell (Khalil Kain) observes; or, “Take yo ass to work,” as Johnson puts it bluntly elsewhere in his screenplay.

4. Anti-miscegenation.  Vianessa Castanos warrants special mention for her role as the Latin temptress who threatens black marital stability and wins a unique award from Ideological Content Analysis for displaying the GREATEST CLEAVAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

3. Traditionalist/pro-family.  “This is a family cruise,” the opening monologue explains, raunchy content notwithstanding.  A pregnant woman refrains from drinking and wants her child to have a good man for a father.  One character does, however, reveal herself to have been horribly wronged by a family member.

2. Christian.  Buck wild though they may long to get, these are people with a fear of God.  “The body according to the Word should be governed by modesty,” pious Lea (Rhona Bennett) reminds herself.

1. Pro-marriage.  Divorce is discouraged.  Couples having troubles should work it out for themselves and for their children’s sake.   The “hit it and quit it” lone wolf mentality loses its appeal with maturity.

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