DEATH WISH (2018)

Revenge movies are my jam, but what really requires a film centered around revenge to work? Well, it helps to see the protagonist get back at all the people who wronged him in the most brutal ways possible. That’s key. What matters most, though, is believing in the reason for revenge in the first place. If their wife was killed, then did you believe their relationship beforehand? If they were beat up and robbed, then do you buy into the guy’s plight at the beginning? If his puppy is killed, then do you… Well, that’s really all you need there. The thing is, revenge inherently requires an emotional connection for that catharsis to be received. With no emotion, it’s really just an exercise of misery. 

Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon living in crime ridden Chicago with his wife and teenage daughter. While his career makes him see a lot of blood and gore, he’s a nice, quiet man who tries his best to avoid confrontation. That’s all changed when criminals break into his home while he’s at work, killing his wife, and gravely injuring his daughter. With no other recourse and at his wit’s end, Paul starts taking the law into his own hand, killing various criminals, while also trying to track down his family’s assailants. Looks like somebody has a Death Wish. 

A remake of the 1974 film of the same name starring Charles Bronson, many people found this remake to be the same as a lot of other remakes: pointless. Well, to be honest, I don’t think the original Death Wish is all that great and could be improved with a different take on the material. Eli Roth as your director and Bruce Willis as your star are sadly the wrong people to do so. You would think they might work out. Roth has made a name for himself making trash exploitation cinema, but I’ve never found any of them good. Bruce Willis was one of the classic charismatic action stars from back in the day, but he hasn’t turned in a decent, hardworking performance in years. It’s certainly not the best combination and all it makes for is one of the blandest and laughably bad revenge films to come out in some time. 

With Eli Roth being behind the camera, you think there would be a lot of ridiculous gore, pervasive language, and obnoxious characters. Well, since he didn’t write this one, it’s more restrained than his other efforts. It wouldn’t be a problem if the guy could direct drama, comedy, or anything else but gore, but he can’t. Every single scene that doesn’t feature Bruce Willis shooting people is laughably terrible, especially when things are supposed to be emotional, such as scenes with him and his family. All of the acting and dialogue just felt so off and consistently took me out of the film. Since I couldn’t take any of it seriously, it was hard for me to be excited for the inevitable vengeance, especially since the bad guys are so generic and lame. When we did get it, it was actually kind of fun to see Willis kicking ass and Roth letting his gory tendencies fly. It annoys me that he shot this on digital, though, because if he was trying to go for a grindhouse mood, the crispness of the presentation kind of ruined it. 

Too bad that bloody fun is all too few and far between interspersed with awful filmmaking filled with trite thematic exploration on vengeance. The reason the original Death Wish was such a big deal was because at the time, New York City was a terribly dirty, crime ridden city with no hope in sight. People admired somebody who felt like they eventually had no choice but to take the law into their own hands. Where the original film glorified vigilante violence and the similar film Death Sentence vilified it, this remake rides the line, giving both sides of the debate. Two different local radio stations debate the ethics of Kersey’s crusade throughout, one saying it’s necessary, the other saying it’s not. The filmmakers never take a clear stance on the issue, showing the pros and cons of the situation, which I kind of appreciated. However, the points brought up have been talked about in every other revenge movie out there, so it’s nothing we’ve never heard before. 

Much to my surprise, Willis actually did a better job than I was expecting him to. Sure, his lips rarely form anything other than a frown, but in the scenes where he needed to be emotional, he at least does the bare minimum. He shockingly actually produces some tears at times and I was sometimes able to actually invest in his character. Other than that, though, he’s on autopilot 90% of the time, just waiting for that check to clear. It’s kind of depressing, because the man used to be incredibly charismatic. I recently watched Pulp Fiction for the billionth time and his performance is just so much fun there. I’m not sure what happened, but the guy now can’t be bothered to barely move his face. Thanks to the writing and directing, none of the other actors fare much better, even the great ones like Dean Norris and Vincent D’Onofrio. Kimberley Elise as Norris’ police partner sure provided a lot of laughs with her ridiculous facial expressions and stilted line readings. Special mention goes to Camilla Morrone, playing Kersey’s daughter, who is especially awful, delivering each line with the most unrealistic emotions possible. “Dad, why are you putting me under the stairs?” is no doubt the most unintentionally hilarious line of 2018 so far. 

Death Wish was actually mildly entertaining, but for all of the wrong reasons. Eli Roth’s complete ineptitude when it comes to capturing human drama and themes on vigilantism provided a lot of laughs, but I’m not watching a revenge film for laughs. I’m watching it for the blood, violence, and exploration of a damaged character, which I didn’t get enough of here. While I would consider better than the original in some respects, even on its own, it’s just not very good. Do yourself a favor and watch the much superior Death Sentence instead. 

4/10

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