Monday, 9 April 2018



Because this is genuinely what is needed right now: a nuanced, balanced examination of the right to bear arms, revenge or justice in a world gone wild and What It Means To Be A Man, a careful and considered dissection of toxic masculinity, gun violence and urban decay and their effects upon modern "civilised" society - oh, no, sorry, my mistake. What we really need right now is a knuckleheaded throwback to the heady days of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, an uncritical good-guy-with-a-gun flagwaver for the NRA and the Second Amendment aimed at the lowest common denominator of yeehawing popcorn guzzlers.

Eli Roth is a film-maker who generally gets a rough ride, not entirely unfairly, and his Death Wish remake isn't headed for the plus column. (In fairness, I quite liked the first two Hostel films and The Green Inferno, even though few others did.) If you know Michael Winner's original from the 1970s, you pretty much know what's going to happen: ordinary, hard-working, successful family man Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis, taking the Charles Bronson role) turns vigilante and avenging angel when his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and teenage daughter are brutalised by burglars. Donning a series of hoodies and acquiring a handgun by chance, Kersey sets out to bring the scumbags to a form of justice that an overworked, underfunded and ineffective police system can't provide.

It's been shorn of fourteen seconds from a torture sequence in order to obtain a 15 certificate, but that leaves the film only slightly short of the 18 that it frankly still deserves: even in its cut version there's plenty of righteous bloodshed to satisfy the undiscriminating. The point of Death Wish isn't - or shouldn't be - the violence, it's the price of the violence, what it costs Paul Kersey in terms of his soul and his humanity. You didn't get that much in the Charles Bronson film, but you get even less this time around. Kersey is an ordinary guy, not a superman: he's an architect in the original, he's not a man faced daily with death and suffering. Making him a trauma surgeon in a busy ER does mean he can handle the sight of blood and grue, but Willis still takes to murdering strangers in cold blood far too easily, to the extent that he can deliver kiss-off zingers when he ticks another heavily tattooed scumbag off his list.

The result is a film that's more black-and-white on the subject of violence than Sin City was. Eli Roth's Death Wish is actually less shaded and subtle than Michael Winner's, which is an achievement of some sort: we're talking more the level of shade and subtlety of Death Wish II once the franchise was taken over by the Cannon Group. Indeed, it might as well kick off with Cannon's old interlocking hexagon logo. It's tasteless, tacky, hollow and exploitative, its occasional stabs at comedy are ill-judged and out of place (there's a moment with a bowling ball that's only a donggg!!! sound effect away from Naked Gun 2½), it appeals entirely to the audience's basest instincts and never to their heart or brain, and it revels sadistically in its violent money shots rather than being revolted by them.

If this had gone straight to DVD or Netflix as a Seagal, Lundgren or Scott Adkins thudfest it would have done quite nicely as Friday night six-pack rubbish for simpletons, but it's a major studio production (MGM) with a major, if slightly fading, movie star, and given a national cinema release so it really should be better than this. (See also James Wan's Death Sentence - another Brian Garfield adaptation from a director best known for gloopy torture films.) It's not actively boring - it's too stupid and crass to be boring - and there are a couple of unintentional laughs to be had (the "perp" is described at one point as being in his mid-to-late thirties, which Brucie could barely pass for at least two Die Hards ago), but on the question of whether it's actually any good or not: it isn't.


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