Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Beau Knapp, Len Cariou, Jack Kesy, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Stephanie Janusauskas
Written by: Joe Carnahan, based on a novel by Brian Garfield, and on a screenplay by Wendell Mayes
Directed by: Eli Roth
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout
Running Time: 107
Date: 03/02/2018

Death Wish (2018)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

'Wish' You Weren't Here

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Eli Roth's remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson movie Death Wish (both based on Brian Garfields' novel) is not only awful, it's also incredibly thoughtless, brandishing a brutish, simpleminded argument.

In Death Wish, surgeon Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) lives an ideal existence with his loving wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and teen daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone), who was just accepted to college. But in Chicago, violence is rampant, and after a crooked valet parker notes their address, three masked men break in to their home. Paul is not home, but after the women fight back, Lucy is killed and Jordan winds up in a coma.

Paul waits for police detectives Raines (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise) to find clues, but nothing happens. After his wife's funeral, he is inspired to pick up a gun and go out at night. He kills two carjackers and finds the experience energizing. He becomes a hoodie-wearing vigilante, and finally stumbles upon a clue to leads to the killers. But one killer is still loose...

The Bronson version was troublesome, but it worked; now is a vastly different time and the entire idea is insensitive and foolish. This Death Wish does offer a few arguments against vigilante violence, but for the most part, it wants us to root for its "hero" and to hope he'll get away with his crimes. Perhaps worse, Roth's career full of excessive violence and torture — including another exploitation remake, the vile The Green Inferno — indicates that he was probably more interested than blood splatters than in any actual ideas.

The screenplay starts awkwardly showing just how cozily perfect life is at the Kersey home, supposedly heightening the "shock" when things go south. It also doesn't quite make sense that Kersey is now a surgeon rather than an architect, a man sworn to protect life. In some scenes, he's as efficient as a streetwise action hero and in others, he's ridiculously clumsy and careless.

Willis can't help but play him with a sheepish look much of the time, and Beau Knapp is flat-out bad as a sneering, cunning killer. It's an unwelcome movie, but the argument between "taking the law into your own hands" or "letting the ineffectual police do nothing" is an insult in a time when the conversation has moved on to more pressing topics.

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