Die Hart never breaks from its vanity project premise to say anything interesting about absurd method acting.
Published on April 19, 2023
Rating 2 /5
On the surface, Die Hart is an all-too-familiar formula. It portrays Kevin Hart more or less as himself, becoming disillusioned with his acting career. Seeing himself as one-note, he seeks more and ends up in an actual situation to prove he's a superior actor. It resembles The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, or My Name is Bruce. The sad thing about this film is that it comes so close to saying something about method acting but, unfortunately, switches on comedy safety mode.
Hart plays an actor seeking gritty action roles where he's a lead instead of the dorky sidekick, echoing his role in films like Ride Along and Central Intelligence. Fearing he’s doomed to be typecasted, he seeks out the eye of acclaimed action director Claude Van De Velde (Jean Reno). The director agrees to hire Kevin as the lead for his next movie if he can pass his rigorous school to become an action star. The school is led by the eccentric and deceptive Ron Wilcox (John Travolta), who takes acting so seriously that it’s hard to tell when he’s joking.
Paired up with Hart is Jordan King (Nathalie Emmanuel), another actor seeking her big break in more giant action movies. She starts sharing Kevin’s concerns as the training activities become increasingly questionable and dangerous. This ranges from fight scenes using real knives to a green-screen stunt where Wilcox directs them to have sex while suspended in the air. The acting gets more dangerous with constant questioning of whether or not this is an acting school or something more. Well, it is that for a small part of the movie.
The problem is that Die Hart reveals its game early. The game of Hart being in a reality show without knowing it is divulged far too soon. This aspect would make sense if the movie were trying to present some Truman Show commentary on method acting and hidden camera media. There are so many moments when it comes close to saying something about the dangerous nature of shooting films where the actors are not clued into the direction. It’s enough to make one think of the unfortunate fatalities that befell such films as The Twilight Zone Movie and The Crow, where mishaps with action led to death. But this picture wants to be a comedy and seems to fall back on easy laughs as if it yells “psyche” right before something profound can be explored.
This is a major shame. Here’s a film with the potential to comment on the filmmaking process rather than merely muck about as a lukewarm parody. The fake-out idea of the whole concept robs this picture of saying something more. It’s also confusing how it tries integrating with Hollywood name-dropping to sell its story. Josh Hartnett plays a role in the story as himself, and it becomes confusing how in on this activity he becomes. There also comes a point where he is killed, and it seems to be treated as just another part of the process. A smitten Jordan asks if Josh did die, and the picture just kind of leaves that absurdity in the air, despite how crucial it would seem to the very core of the picture.
Die Hart never breaks from its vanity project premise to say anything interesting about absurd method acting. Even when the film feels like it’s trying to make a point, Hart becomes the drowned-out voice of reason, where all he can do is remark, “Oh, hell, no!” When the problems of acting for an action movie are reduced to such punchlines and a flimsy subversion, it’s hard to be invested in whether or not Hart will get the part.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.