Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Eli Roth's "Death Wish" is yet another meaningless, needless remake.

Death Wish Review

If there ever was kind of a perfect time to remake "Death Wish" it would be right now.

After all, we are unfortunately at the head of yet another gun debate in this country. As always, I don't see any genuine change in sight. This will sadly play out as it always does, politicians and civilians will draw their lines in the sand, and savagely point fingers at the politicians and civilians on the other side of beach, claiming this is all their fault. I see very few people coming up with positive changes to this problem, just posting meaningless memes on their social media accounts and lots of ignorant name-calling. Even the independents in this country can't seem to really explain who they are and what they want.

The original "Death Wish" came out in 1974 and it starred Charles Bronson. I love the movie, and I wonder how many people would get it confused with a revenge thriller. The original "Death Wish" is NOT a revenge thriller, it's a vigilante movie. Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, an architect with a wife and daughter whom he loves very much. One day at random, while Kersey is away from home, muggers attack his family in his home. His wife dies and his daughter is comatose. He goes to the police but they are no help. He buys a gun, learns how to use it and then goes into the night to kill criminals. He never kills the original muggers who attacked his family, in fact, we never see them again in the movie. This isn't about Kersey getting revenge. This is about a man trying to find a cure for the pain he's feeling. That painkiller was the gun he bought and the bullets he put into any criminal he could find.

I wish I could say the 2018 remake of "Death Wish" was worth your time. I wish I could say it had something significant to say about our uneasy relationship with guns right now, hell I wish it had something to say about it at all. But from the direction by Eli Roth, working from a script by Joe Carnahan, I really don't know why I figured these two sensation junkies would even remotely try to dig deep with this text. I knew they wouldn't challenge their audience. What's worst is that, as a piece of pop culture entertainment, "Death Wish" fails on that front too. This is just your standard revenge fantasy with the "Death Wish" label slapped on it. The only thing that really ties itself back to the original film is that sly finger gun that Charles Bronson did right before the credits rolled. This is the most shameless example of cashing in on a name that I cant think of.

Instead of an architect, Paul Kersey is a doctor in Chicago, Illinois in this new film. He is played by Bruce Willis. Even though I have to admit that "played by" is an understatement. Willis lurches around this movie as if he has a hockey stick shoved up his rectum. Most scenes feature Willis making awkward faces, like he's a teenager who is constipated on the toilet. He doesn't look like he's enjoying himself, doesn't look like he undertook this project for any other reason besides money. He's got the same gloomy facial structure etched on his face throughout the whole movie. When Kersey's family is attacked, his wife killed, his daughter in a coma, just like the original, he never feels or looks like Kersey goes through any genuine change. He's suddenly bent on revenge because the script calls for it, not for any type of emotional development from the movie.

Instead of being a random attack, the bad guys in this remake target the Kerseys, and the film boils down to Paul finding the bad guys who wronged him and killing him. Sorry folks, but come on, I didn't spoil anything. We all know this is how this was going to go. Safe. Predictable. Missing the entire point of the original movie. Sure, Willis kills a drug dealer who hurt a young boy in a crossfire. Sure, he kills some carjackers because he was in the right place at the right time. But all this boils down to his killing those who killed his wife. This being a movie by Eli Roth, Willis' Kersey is more of a moral slasher, killing the bad guys in interesting ways, pumping up the sound mixing. The original film was so simple, and that was a reason to why it was so successful. There was something haunting plain about a regular man with a regular handgun killing so many muggers in New York City. Here, Willis is a just a brooding version of John McClane here.

Over the years, I've seen enough revenge thrillers to know how this thing goes. It's sad that Roth and Carnahan wanted to do something painfully ordinary instead of really digging like the original film did. Sadly, this "Death Wish" isn't even entertaining. I mean, technically, the film is well made. Rogier Stoffers really created an ugly grittiness with his cinematography. Ludwig Goransson's score haunts each scene and Mark Goldbaitt really knows how to punctuate Roth's action sequences. But the technical aspects of the film don't save it from its big problems. Elisabeth Shue is fine as the wife who dies, but any actress could do it. Dean Norris doesn't get nearly as much screentime as the detective from the first film did, and I think this film could have used more Norris, and finding out how a detective adjusts to a city with a killing vigilante in it. Norris is a great actor, and he's utterly wasted here. As is Vincent D'Onofrio who plays Willis' brother. He's got a stupid subplot which is the lynchpin to why the Kersey's are attacked, and its kind of a lame way to get the movie going. But D'Onofrio acts his ass off here and its slightly admirable.

If a classic movie is really good, what's the point in remaking it? If somebody got something so great the first time, how can you honestly be pompous enough to believe you can outdo that? Obviously its for money, and Hollywood has never put creativity before credit. "Death Wish" is a movie that just plain goes through the motions, with a lead actor who hasn't been himself since 2013. Eli Roth's obnoxious style has ruined another movie, and sadly, he had nothing of substance to say.

FINAL GRADE: D-

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