Death Wish is on life support.
Sure, the update of the Charles Bronson avenger adventure has lots of violence, and Bruce Willis as its doc with a Glock. But for all the shooting and shouting, the movie barely has a pulse. Its got plenty of blood, but no heart.
The script changes a few small things. Were in current, lawless Chicago now, not grimy 1974 New York. Theres social media and viral videos. Also, Paul Kersey is a surgeon instead of an architect.
But the basic plot is the same. Three brutal thieves break into Kerseys home, kill his wife and attack his daughter. First, he grieves. Then he hears the cops tell him theres nothing they can do.
Then he gets a gun, and goes hunting.
That hasnt changed. What the movie does change, though, it gets wrong.
First, its weirdly shy about showing the horror of the home invasion. No one who saw the Bronson film can forget its creepy criminals one of them a young Jeff Goldblum or their ugly assault.
Here, though, Roth is oddly restrained. He cuts away before things get really bad for Kerseys wife, played by Elisabeth Shue. He dilutes the drama and that keeps us from truly feeling her mourning husbands rage.
Second, Willis is all wrong for Kersey. Yes, hes been playing squinting tough guys for years. (Lately in straight-to-streaming crud, but, whatever.)
Still, thats exactly the problem. Bronson was a pacifist in the first film a former conscientious objector who had to convince himself to take revenge. Willis is spoiling for a fight from the start.
There are a couple of well-staged shootouts and one particularly brutal torture scene. (This is the director who made Hostel, after all.) And you cant underestimate the primitive pleasure of seeing a good guy with a gun shoot a bad guy with a gun.
As the NRAs PR people know.
But Death Wish feels like it could be one of their commercials, endorsing vigilante justice even more rabidly than the original. Or as Kerseys father-in-law explains, People rely on the police to keep them safe. Thats the problem. If a man really wants to protect whats his, he has to do it for himself.
Playing to its basic base, the film drags in old clichs of urban decay. (Squeegee men? Really?) It talks John-Wayne tough. (You did what any man would.) It praises doughnuts and deep-dish pizza and snarks about organic health food. It even name-drops right-wing economist Milton Friedman.
I know Willis is a Trump supporter, but isn’t it a little early to be making ads for his reelection?
But the real problem is that the picture feels padded. There are endless, and pointless, scenes of radio hosts debating the vigilante violence. And the wildly mismatched shoot-outs every criminal Kersey goes up against is slow, stupid and a lousy shot waters down the thrills.
Willis can still talk tough with the best of them. Vincent DOnofrio delivers a full, lived-in performance as his screw-up brother (even if the character serves no purpose at all). There are a few mild swipes at American gun culture, and Roth knows how to stage violence.
He just doesnt have anything to say about it.
Or any reason to have made this.