Do not trust the process. Surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) can’t have a much better life than he does. Living far away from the mess of inner-city Chicago, he spends his off days being a great father to his daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone) and a great husband to wife, Lucy (Elisabeth Shue). There’s a lot to celebrate, as Jordan just got into college in New York state.
The celebration, unfortunately, turns into somberness as thieves break into the Kersey household while Paul is at work. In their wake, they leave with valuables, but more importantly, leave Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma. The police promise to apprehend those responsible, but no progress is made. Fed up with the system, Kersey makes the decision to take justice into his own hands. A guardian angel, or a grim reaper?
Life rarely does what people want it to do. We can spend our whole lives trying to get something done at the right time or avoid something at all costs and it hardly ever works out that way. Take the remake of Death Wish, for example. Slated for a Nov 2017 release, the plug was pulled and changed to a March release, believed in large part due to the Las Vegas shooting. Now? Director Eli Roth’s remake comes out literally in the same climate as it would have released in four months ago. Oddly timed? Sure. But, that alone doesn’t automatically make—nor should it make—Death Wish an undeniably bad movie. As it is, it’s a competent revenge flick with some heavy inconsistencies.
Continuing his efforts in reinventing himself from “Splat Pack” gore-porn card-carrying member to a more versatile director is Eli Roth. Technically, this is a perfectly fine-looking movie. While there are headshots aplenty, Roth, save for one elaborate scene, generally tones down the stuff he’s known for. It’s an overall workmanlike effort, neither disappointing or impressing. Unfortunately, there are scenes that go nowhere and upon getting to the end, add little to nothing to the revenge story of Paul Kersey. Even at an average runtime length of 1:47, the feeling exists that 10-15 minutes could be trimmed.
Joe Carnahan, who’s dabbled in both writing/directing mature action/drama features (The Grey, Narc) and dark action-comedy (Stretch, Smokin’ Aces) leads the screenplay on this one. As a basic revenge movie, the motivation is there and enough done to get behind Kersey. However, the writing is too on-the-nose to provide any thought-provoking social commentary. The cops, for example, are routinely painted as mind-numbingly incompetent and one, played by Dean Norris, seemingly exists to just want doughnuts and pizza, and fumbles through a granola bar wrapper. Point made. The talk radio splicing discussing whether “The Grim Reaper” is a hero or villain, led by real-life deejays like Sway, is cool the first time but gets old after the sixth and seventh offering.
Common logic goes out the window as well. Caucasian males make up an obvious large majority of the population, but how can no one seem to ID Kersey? And how does Kersey, knowing that his exploits are being painted all over media, still get away with walking into places with what becomes his trademark hoodie? Furthermore, Carnahan and Roth struggle with nailing a tone down, or at least making their tones blends. No one’s saying that the movie must be completely somber, yet, it can be hard to buy into heartfelt drama one moment when five minutes prior things are being played for laughs. Even with the musical talents of composer Ludwig Göransson (contributing good work to an average movie) telling otherwise.
Workmanlike describes Eli Roth’s directing here, and the same goes for Bruce Willis. This isn’t the comeback people are looking for, but at least it isn’t a direct-to-DVD appearance for the one A-list star. For every burst of energy Willis sometimes exhibits, they’re offset with moments of sleepiness. No one else is really able to leave much of an imprint, either, a shame with a cast that has veterans in Vincent D’Onofrio and Elisabeth Shue. Albeit in limited screentime, Leo DiCaprio’s rumored current flame Camila Morrone might just stand out the most. She’s a name worth watching potentially in the future.
You don’t have to wish for good revenge movies; they already exist as this decade alone has seen a bevy of well-made ones, more than enough for genre fans to revisit time and time again. Death Wish will satiate the most ardent fans who can never get enough of the formula. For everyone else, probably not worth the time.
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