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SOUR EXPERIENCE: Revenge film remake ‘Death Wish’ loses its luster

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REVENGE NOT SO THRILLING: Bruce Willis doesn’t entertain in the ‘Death Wish’ remake. Photo courtesy of MGM

At one point the idea of a man taking the law into his own hands seemed like a fun idea for a movie. The revenge film is such an industry standard. We get someone impacted by tragedy, tired of a system that lets the bad guys slip through their fingers, and are left with no choice other than buying some guns and administering their own brand of brutal justice. I love a good revenge movie—“Old Boy,” “The Crow,” “Payback,” “Mad Max,” “True Grit,” “I Saw the Devil,” “Unforgiven,” “Leon: The Professional,” “Get Carter,” “John Wick,” “Death Wish” (the original). There are so many great movies based on the concept of revenge. The new remake of “Death Wish” from director Eli Roth isn’t one of them.

There are a lot of problems with “Death Wish.” Even if we stripped away all the weird, combative, polarizing issues happening in society right now with gun violence, it still isn’t all that entertaining of a movie. Personally, I would have no problem walking into a theater and watching a good, old-fashioned revenge movie in spite of recent events. I go to the movies to escape the grim, soul-crushing realities of the world and can suspend disbelief as a movie star pretends to gun down the scum of Chicago. I mean, this is the same fictional world where Bruce Willis is a surgeon, so throwing reality out the window is relatively simple.

Can we talk about Bruce Willis for a minute? I realize this question is arbitrary as you, the reader, have no way of responding, so let’s just plow ahead…

I loved Bruce Willis. Everyone who saw “Die Hard” during their formative years loved Bruce. Some people loved Arnold. Some loved Sly. Me, I was a Bruce Willis guy. There was a time when I would see a movie just because Bruce Willis was in the cast. It worked out well when I decided to see something like “Pulp Fiction,” “12 Monkeys” or “The Fifth Element”—not so much when in a theater on the opening night of “Mercury Rising,” “Striking Distance” or “Hudson Hawk.” 

Being a Bruce Willis fan has been even more brutal over the past decade; he’s pretty much abandoned the concept of quality control so long as companies are willing to pay his asking price. Once one of Hollywood’s most successful leading men now appears in  three to four mediocre movies per year that you’ve probably never heard of. Ever heard of “Marauders”? How about “The Prince”?  Does “Precious Cargo,” “Jumping Ship” or “First Kill” ring a bell? Four of those are actual movies he’s done over the past few years.  One I made up. I’m guessing you won’t be able to tell which without referencing IMDB.

“Death Wish” is such a missed opportunity.  Everything about the movie feels phoned-in.  Bruce Willis coasts through the movie with less charisma than a door-to-door insurance salesman with poisonous snakes coming out of his eye sockets. The film feels like a contractually obligated production rather than an artistic endeavor.

Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey. His life is thrown into chaos when his wife is murdered and his daughter ends up in a coma after a home invasion turns deadly. Paul is enraged the police are unable to solve the case, so he decides to track down the killers himself by using superior doctor intelligence and some firearms.

Director Eli Roth brings nothing new to the typical revenge scenario. Actually, that’s not entirely true. He tries to bring a socially relevant conversation to the film by including segments featuring real-life radio personalities, like Sway and Man-Cow, who have terribly staged discussions about vigilante justice. The good news is they’re unintentionally hilarious. The bad news: There’s not nearly enough of them. Everything about “Death Wish” feels uninspired. It’s a revenge movie that doesn’t ever manage to make the audience feel anything at all. Willis is so mechanical he may as well be playing Robocop.

The movie is such a sour experience, mostly because the genre is so often a sure-fire easy target for entertainment. It ends up just another pointless remake with nothing new to offer and devoid of the basic emotional component that fuels the fire of the revenge story. 

Death Wish


Rated R
Directed by Eli Roth
Starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue

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