I’ve sat in front of my computer screen for the past 13-and-a-half minutes watching a video on Youtube called “Every gunshot from the Deathwish movies.” In it, Charles Bronson shoots thousands of bullets, a rocket and two rifle-mounted grenades at hundreds of goons in LA and New York City. With action so comically over-the-top as to erase any recognition of the mountainous body count, the original “Death Wish” series is something glorious if not outright mind-numbingly stupid. Politics aside, there’s something so pure about watching Bronson rain hell on bad guys sans consequence. And no, losing your wife and daughter and countless other women to rape and murder are not consequences — maybe in the real world, but in this universe the only thing to mourn over is not being able to kill enough bad guys.
“Death Wish” was fun while it lasted, ending in 1995 before being revitalized by MGM Studios 23 years later. The long-winded pre-production period, which lasted a decade, eventually pinned Eli Roth helming direction over a script originally written by Joe Carnahan (“The Grey,” “Stretch”). My own personal disdain for the genre filmmaker aside, his well-established style over a film franchise this poorly aged was an ill-fated recipe for cringe-inducing murder porn. Fortunately for anyone deeply invested in his pulpy oeuvre, “Death Wish” is peak Eli Roth; for anyone else, it’s an insufferable amalgam of everything wrong with revenge thrillers and low-hanging fruit for gun fanatics everywhere. And yes, as reported for the umpteenth time: This movie could not have found a worse time to have been released.
Bruce Willis stars as Not Charles Bronson, Paul Kersey, a doctor. First off, kudos to whomever decided it would be a good idea to change Kersey from an architect to a doctor, because seeing Willis play a doctor isn’t quite comedy gold, but it’s just goofy enough to make you smile. Anyway, his wife gets killed and his daughter comatosed after a home invasion gone wrong. Kersey is sad — we know this because Willis makes a sad face and sheds, like, three tears. Detective Rains (Dean Norris, seemingly reprising his “Breaking Bad” role as Hank Schrader) and Detective Jackson (Kimberly Elise) are assigned to the case, as well as a whole slew of others. “Death Wish” wishes to touch upon Chicago’s very real and very high violent crime rate, but is spineless in its execution, instead preferring to have its protagonist slaughter everyone in his path Travis Bickle-style.
Dubbed the Grim Reaper, Kersey embarks on a revenge quest, cleaning the mean streets of Chicago armed with a handgun he looted off a goon who arrived to the hospital suffering gunshot wounds — and, coincidentally, is revealed to be a coordinator of the home invasion. Highly controversial, Kersey’s Grim Reaper vigilante persona receives divisive media attention, with critics like Sway Calloway (of “Sway in the Morning”) questioning the ethics of his so-called “justice.” Throughout the movie, radio hosts like Sway, alongside news anchors and other prolific radio hosts comment on the killings — it’s lazy, it’s intrusive and it’s perhaps the only shot the movie has at making a statement. Of course, the attempts fall flat. Know what else falls flat? Bodies, lots of ‘em! Only, unlike the Bronson movies of yore, Willis’ rampage is wholly unrewarding and, frankly, like a lot of the violence in Roth’s filmography, pornographic.
“Death Wish” is not a good movie. Even if gun control discourse wasn’t igniting flames larger than anyone could have predicted in the ‘70s, this simply comes across too slimy and foul to stomach. Reading comments on the aforementioned video of Bronson mowing down dudes with machine guns and magnums with infinite ammo cheat codes, it’s obvious what brand of politics fans of this movie ascribe to. Let’s just not do this, ok? The world has enough Eli Roth torture porn. Be it intentional or incidental, “Death Wish” is a bid to champion fear-mongering gun-toters and those too uninformed to prescribe an alternative worldview.
Verdict: As poorly timed as it is poorly constructed, Eli Roth’s latest is a battery of poor taste and vacuous narrative. It may have worked for different reasons with Charles Bronson, but this Bruce Willis reboot is a steaming pile of shit with the poorest of optics.