Today’s Conjuring-loving audiences may have forgotten that James Wan delivered a bull’s eye of a Death Wish remake in 2007’s Kevin Bacon-starring Death Sentence. Now, along comes Eli Roth to exclaim more loudly that he has remade the Charles Bronson vehicle (no one really thinks he is adapting Brian Garfield’s novel, right?) with Bruce Willis. In true stylistically bland Roth fashion, the promised product exceeds the delivered goods (see any movie in his oeuvre).
As trauma surgeon Paul Kersey, whose wife and daughter are killed and injured in a home invasion gone wrong, Willis again sleepwalks for another paycheck (think any of it was subsidized by the NRA?). Kersey should be a figure of grim determination and single-minded vengeance, not Willis’ sleepy charisma. Imagine if Vincent D’Onofrio, who languishes as Kersey’s ne’er-do-well, former baseball prospect brother, were cast as the lead. That film may have gotten further to the dark core of this outdated thriller; such crime-phobic movies feel so late-’70s, throwbacks to when Times Square was dingy and pornographic.
Joe Carnahan’s script wants to preach a bit; an odd gun-control message can be heard briefly spinning up. But the idea that Kersey has become more interested in doing violence—being an amalgam of judge, jury and executioner—than in avenging his family cannot find a solid handhold, thanks to a nearly fatal lack of emotion. Death Wish’s armed vigilante is not as simple and enjoyable a movie concept as Hollywood thinks it is. Were it so, they would have remade Dirty Harry by now.
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