By G. Michael Dobbs
In this week's movie column, I'll look at how one middle-aged action star handles yet another sequel of his signature franchise and an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that stars a native of Chicopee.
In Theaters: A Good Day to Die Hard
Cleverly released on Valentine's Day despite not a whisper of a romantic sub-plot this latest and fifth installment of the "Die Hard" series is a fast-moving enjoyable action film that actually takes into account that star Bruce Willis is 57 years-old.
That, in itself, is refreshing in this genre where performers such as Sylvester Stallone routinely cast themselves in roles better played by 30 year-olds.
The plot proves some backstory for the McClane family. John McClane (Willis) learns that his estranged son is about to stand trial for murder in Russia and travels to that country to try to help his son.
What John doesn't know is that Jack is actually a CIA operative who is in the middle of rescuing and extricating a Russian millionaire who has the information necessary to take down a corrupt Russian official.
The older McClane manages to delay his son's operation by a few minutes in a sincere effort to help him, setting in motion the rest of the movie's storyline. Naturally the two men come together and of course they kill dozens of members of various Russian mobs.
Although in previous films the John McClane character evolved from being a persistent but human cop to a superhero with the ability to withstand great pain and leap great distances, in this installment McClane seems far more human, with a good chunk of the action shared by Jai Courtney who plays his son Jack.
That's not to say that Willis is a secondary character or shuffling about with a walker. Director John Moore and writers Skip Woods and Roderick Thorp have just dialed down the super heroics a bit.
There is an amazing car chase at the beginning of the film, that appears not to have relied on computer animation, while the climax certainly does. The return to physical special effects is something I welcomed.
Willis can be an engaging performer and he does well here. Courtney, known to television audiences for his starring role as Spartacus on the cable series, is a good match with him.
If you're a fan of either Willis or of the "Die Hard" series, be sure to catch this film on the big screen.
On DVD: Freaky Deaky
Superstar novelist Elmore Leonard's books and short stories have been a frequent source for films from westerns such as "Hombre" and "3:10 to Yuma" to contemporary crime stories such as "52 Pick-up" and "Jackie Brown." The hit FX series "Justified" is based on his work.
The latest cinematic adaptation is "Freaky Deaky," a novel Leonard wrote in 1988 and it's a shaggy dog story that I enjoyed.
There was the added pleasure of seeing a local woman, Sabina Gadecki of Chicopee, excel in the lead female role.
Directed and written by Charles Matthau, "Freaky Deaky" is a trip back in time to the 1970s. Chris Mankowski (Billy Burke) is a cop on the Detroit bomb squad who manages to get temporarily bounced from the force when he investigates a rape charge against a constantly drunk, but influential, millionaire Woody Ricks (Crispin Glover).
Ricks is smitten by the young woman he assaulted, but Greta (Gadecki) isn't interested in either his proposal of marriage or his other efforts to win her over. Instead she is drawn to Mankowski, who initially resists her advances.
Mankowski is really interested in getting back onto the force and his path is made a bit easier when Robin Abbot (Breanne Racano) comes back to town. Having served time for bombing a federal building, Abbot is interested in revenge on those who her set her up: Woody and his hapless brother Mark (Andy Dick).
Recruiting a former partner who is now an explosive expert for movies (Christian Slater), Abbot devises a plan to squeeze money out of Woody and then murder him. Speaking of squeezed, Woody's caretaker, Donnell (Michael Jai White) is attempting to get Woody to write him into his will.
Matthau handles the twist and turns of the material well and succeeds in recreating the 1970s through settings, props, clothes and hairstyles. He even casts 1970s acting veteran Gloria Hendry in a role as a cop. Only when Burke takes his shirt off that reveals some non-1970s tattoos is the illusion compromised.
Gadecki handles herself well in the company of more experienced performers and she is undoubtedly on her way to follow in the footsteps of other successful actors from the region such as Paige Turco (currently seen in a recurring role on "Person of Interest") and Bridget Moynahan (part of the cast of "Blue Bloods").
Darkly funny and rich with odd characters, "Freaky Deaky" is well worth finding.
Note: Even though Christian Slater gets star billing in this film, his character is far from the lead. Chalk this up to the power of agents and to the perception that Slater has the greatest name recognition to potential viewers.