Dopey ‘Day,’ snarky ‘Creatures,’ sappy ‘Haven’

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FS, Contributing Writer

“A Good Day to Die Hard”images-4

Bruce Willis has been doing his comic-action act as supercop John McClane since 1988, but even the most die-hard fan will find the latest installment in the series, A Good Day to Die Hard (wide release), more punishment than pleasure.

This time around, McClane goes to Moscow to help his estranged son, who’s been charged with murder. But Jack, as he’s called (short for John, Jr., presumably), turns out to be a CIA agent who’s gotten himself arrested in order to rescue an imprisoned Russian billionaire who can provide damning evidence against a dangerous Kremlin politician.

What follows is a chain of set pieces – car chases, gunfights, foot pursuits and explosions – that are occasionally punctuated by predictable double-crosses and half-hearted attempts at heart-to-heart talk between John and Jack. Since the mayhem involves tons of CGI, it isn’t particularly exciting, and the noise reaches brain-pulverizing levels, especially when accompanied by an incredibly bombastic music score.

It all winds up at Chernobyl, no less, where our heroes must foil a plot to steal tons of weapons-grade uranium by, among other feats, bringing down a rocket-equipped helicopter while avoiding radiation hot-spots – minor problems in a macho wish-fulfillment fantasy like this.

More live-action video game than movie, A Good Day makes for a bad ninety minutes.

images-3“Beautiful Creatures”

The Twilight-inspired fascination with romance between humans and various “children of the night” continues with Beautiful Creatures (wide release), in which an ordinary high-school kid falls for a teen witch (though her kind prefers to be called “casters”).

The movie has some amusing lines, especially in the voiceovers the boy delivers about the provincialism of his South Carolina hometown. It also boasts ripe, hammy turns by Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson as the girl’s uncle and mother, who vie over whether she should turn to white or black magic. And it’s done up in bright, cartoonish style reminiscent of Tim Burton’s extravagant flights of fancy.

But in the end Beautiful Creatures comes across as arch and precious, and the final confrontation is an orgy of special effects that might have sounded spectacular on paper but winds up a terrible mess on screen.

The zombies of Warm Bodies are a far more agreeable bunch.

“Safe Haven”

Nicholas Sparks, whose novels trade in treacle, outdoes himself in Safe Haven (wide release), which combines a saccharine love story with a damsel-in-distress melodrama and manages to bungle both.images-2

The heroine is a young woman who flees a scene of domestic violence in Boston and makes her way to a small North Carolina coastal town, pursued by a police detective who seems unnaturally obsessed with the case. She soon catches the eye of a handsome, sensitive shop owner who happens to be a widower with two adorable young children.

Romance quickly blossoms between them, but that cop will literally stop at nothing to catch up with the fugitive.

Both plot threads culminate in a series of confrontations at a Fourth of July fireworks show that feature unseemly elements, such as violence against women and child endangerment. But as bad as that is, it pales beside a completely goofy coda that adds a supernatural twist to things.

Safe Haven shows Sparks at his worst – which, given how lousy the previous movies based on his books have been, is pretty amazing.

images-1“Stand Up Guys”

Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin are over-the-hill mobsters in Stand Up Guys (wide release), and it’s sporadically engaging to watch the veteran trio play off against one another.

Unfortunately, the movie is an example of how actors can triumph over inferior material. The plot – in which Pacino, just out of prison, spends his first day of freedom with best buddy Walken, rescuing their old driver Arkin from a nursing home for one last fling – is a talky affair that depends too much on scatological humor. It’s even worse when it tries to surprise us with sudden revelations, and a Wild Bunch-style turn at the end falls flat.

But while Pacino’s typically over-the-top gruffness gets tiresome at times, Walken’s deadpan delivery and Arkin’s geniality go a long way to rescue the picture. It doesn’t stand very tall, but it doesn’t fall on its face either.

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