A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD: 2.5 STARS

The latest installment of the seemingly unending Bruce Willis “Die Hard” series has an awkward name. I suppose the “A Good Day to Die Hard” title captures the never-say-die spirit of the previous films, but it could just as easily have been called, “John McClane: Quipping in the Chaos” or “John McClane Goes to Moscow to Destroy Property and Win Back the Love of His Son.” Or maybe something simpler would be better. Is “Explosiony” a word?

Willis breaks out his trademarked McClane smirk for a fifth go around, this time travelling to Russia to track down his wayward son. Within minutes of John’s arrival he’s tearing up the streets, chasing after his son Jack (Jai Courtney) who’s being chased by some very bad Russian thugs. Turns out the apple hasn’t fallen from the tree. Jack isn’t wayward, he’s a highly trained CIA operative in the midst of a tricky mission to smuggle government whistleblower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) out of the country. Joining forces the estranged father and son discover - between explosions and bursts of gunfire - they have something more in common than shared DNA.

The original “Die Hard” is an eighties classic. It’s a near perfect mix of action, humor and charisma that made Willis a movie star and gave us the catchphrase, “Yippee-ki-yay…” It’s also something that action movies usually aren’t - self-contained. By and large the action took place inside the Nakatomi Plaza office building and the resulting claustrophobic feel added to the tension.

Since then the movies have slowly opened up the action, and become more generic with every added location shoot. The new film has almost as many exotic locations as a James Bond film, twice as many exploding rockets as a Fourth of July fireworks display and a body count that would take a mathematician to calculate, but none of the wit of style of the first couple of films in the series. More is less in this case.

Willis, who turned John McClane into a pop culture hero, isn’t really playing McClane anymore, but rather an amplified version of all the action heroes he’s played since “Moonlighting” went off the air. It’s a mishmash of smirks, quips and stunt work - when you see a helicopter you just know McClane is going to end up hanging off the back of it - that brims with star power but none of the elan that made Willis a different kind of action star from Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Near the end of “A Good Day to Die Hard” Jack asks John if he attracts trouble. He nods yes. Too bad he doesn’t attract good action scripts. This isn’t a terrible movie, just a forgettable one and a disappointing entry in a once great series.

 

SAFE HAVEN: 1.5 STARS

Both author Nicholas Sparks and producer Ryan Kavanaugh admit to using formulas to create their films. Sparks, the author of weepies like “The Notebook” and “Dear John,” uses manipulative method to ensure a five Kleenex experience and Kavanaugh has pioneered mathematical tools to bridge the gap between financing and creativity.

“Safe Haven,” their latest collaboration, feels like the product of formula. Despite director Lasse Hallström’s sweeping camera shots, the movie is as calculated as the mathematical formula that created it.

Jennifer Aniston look-a-like Julianne Hough stars as Katie, a Bostonian woman with a past who tries to start her life again in the sleepy seaside town of Southport, North Carolina. She calls it a “clean, empty canvas” where she can start over.

While working at the local restaurant she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a handsome widower with two kids, Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) and Josh (Noah Lomax). They meet. They fall in love - not a spoiler, it’s a Nicholas Sparks movie! Of course the best-looking pair in the film will go gaga for one another. All seems well until a relentless detective tracks her down. All this leads to a climax on the fourth of July, so you know the show in the sky won’t be the only fireworks on display.

Despite a flurry of Sparkisms - romantic letters, lines like, “I’ve been keeping my head down ever since my wife died. Today is the first day I’ve looked up,” and passionate first kisses - there isn’t enough romance on earth to keep people interested in the movie’s parallel stories, complete with flashbacks and an almost two hour running time.

Like many of the Sparks movies that have brought lust to the cineplexes in recent memory, “Safe Haven” has too many musical montages and not enough actual content to justify the length.

There is a plot twist - and a pretty good one - but it takes forever to get to it, and despite a charming, natural performance from Mimi Kirkland as little Lexie, I lost that lovin’ feeling for this movie early on.

It does, however, contain the winner of the Most Unnecessary Character of the Year Award (I’m looking at you Cobie Smulders) and a maniacally manipulative Nicholas Sparks moment that trumps all that have come before it. Still, neither of those elements earns it a recommendation.

 

A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III: 2.5 STARS

"A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is much like its star Charlie Sheen--a bit of a mess but still, somehow likable.

Charles (Charlie) is a graphic designer in the laid back Los Angeles of 1970-something. He's a creative genius and a loose cannon who keeps saucy polaroids of his exes in a special drawer in his house. When his girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) finds the photos she dumps him, sending him into a spiral. He dips in and out of reality, alienates his best friend, stand-up comic Kirby Star (Jason Schwartzman), pushing his personal and professional lives close to the edge of disaster.

In other words it's a re-enactment of Sheen's famous "winning" meltdown minus the tiger blood.

It cannot be said the Coppola's don't have a gift for shot composition. From father Francis to sister Sophia and brother Roman the family has a gift for making great looking films. Roman - who produces and directs here - presents a vision of 1970s Los Angeles - complete with velvet suits, vintage cars and cigarette smoke - that recreates the glamour days when Dino’s Lodge ruled the Sunset Strip.

What he didn’t inherit is his dad's story sense.

"A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is a disjointed, strange film that seems more interested in its nonlinear narrative than actually developing real characters. While it's fun to see Sheen living a strange shadow life on screen or Schwartzman bringing along the off kilter feel of his work with Wes Anderson only Bill Murray is something he never is -- forgettable.

And yet, despite a lack of really compelling characters, the movie has its own hypnotic charm. The dreamy fantasy sequences that dot the narrative are often pointless - not to mention a misogynistic look at the battle of the sexes - but have a random, surreal energy, all leading up to Charlie's unexpectedly touching speech about not wanting to fall out of love with Ivana. It's not a big enough payoff to justify the 85-plus minute running time, but it is an interesting way to express man-child Charlie's inability to let go of the past.

If "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is remembered years from now, it will only be as a portrait of the flame-out that characterized Sheen’s life for a few months post his "Two and A Half Men" departure. But the film doesn't take itself too seriously - why else would the camera pull back to break the fourth wall at the end? - so neither should we.