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Films of the week

A Good Day to Die Hard (12A)

Beautiful Creatures (12A)

This year is the 25th anniversary of Die Hard, a classic – perhaps the classic – of the action genre. Die Hard had humour, suspense, imagination, a wonderfully wicked bad guy and Bruce Willis's New York cop John McClane, a blue-collar hero with receding hair and a bad vest, who bled, hurt, quipped, and never gave up.

Even though the sequels have been an exercise in diminishing returns, it's always been worth catching up with McClane. In his fifth outing, though, most of the qualities that made the character so appealing have deserted him. A Good Day to Die Hard is, for Willis, a bad day at the office.

In the last outing, McClane's young daughter became embroiled in the action when she was taken hostage, the crisis creating a rapprochement between father and child. So it's indescribably lazy to have his estranged son now enter the fray, even if he's a muscular young chap (Jai Courtney) who gets to stand alongside dad – John and Jack, no less – as they take on Russian gangsters.

The plot's laughable (we're told these Mobskis caused the Chernobyl disaster), but they always are. What is damaging here is the lack of subtlety in the characterisation. The once witty McClane has become a lughead, whose mediocre running gag is that "I'm on f***ing vacation" and whose call to arms is "let's go kill some scumbags". He's not just lost the pretence of vulnerability that used to be part of his charm, but he's become a buffoon to boot.

On the action front, the film has its moments, including a motorway chase involving a high-speed tank and a spectacular climax at Chernobyl. But even on that front the filmmakers have an air of desperation, with everything too rushed, too loud, too chaotic. It's time for McClane to hang up his badge.

Beautiful Creatures is the first of a likely new franchise based on a series of novels concerning a forbidden love between a supernatural creature and a teen mortal. You would have been forgiven for thinking that Twilight was behind you. Only in Hollywood does familiarity not seem to breed contempt.

Here there is at least a tweak of the window-dressing. This time it's not vampires and werewolves, but witches, although these ones prefer to call themselves "casters" (every time I heard this word I imagined one of the characters being wheeled off) and not all are bad. Indeed, as Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) approaches her 16th birthday her chief concern is whether she will join the light or dark sides of the caster clan. Willing her to be good is her uncle (Jeremy Irons); luring her to the dark her mother (Emma Thompson).

Meanwhile, Lena's fallen for Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), who is dreaming of escaping his sleepy South Carolina town when the sullen but mysterious new pupil walks through the door.

The key difference between Beautiful Creatures and the Twilight saga is humour – Richard LaGravanese has written an agile, literate script, enjoyably bold in its digs at religious bigotry and given rum delivery by those fruity thesps Irons and Thompson. And yet this southern gothic concoction flatters to deceive. LaGravanese is a better writer than he is a director, and in the latter role his handling of the narrative is so clunky that he's constantly threatening to take the wheels off. Despite wanting to, I couldn't quite fall under its spell.

Demetrios Matheou

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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