Interestingly Death Wish, the millennial-era remake of the gritty mid 70’s crime thriller of the same name, notoriously arrives in theaters at an increasingly awkward moment in a divisive national climate (particularly in the aftermath of the most recent high school shooting) where the political stakes regarding gun violence in America are at an all-time high. In all fairness, director Eli Roth’s (“The Green Inferno”) nihilistic narrative about a noted physician-turned-detached-avenger who decides to take justice into his own hands after his family is victimized can register with both ignited reception and indignant outrage depending on what side of the coin one is poised on the issue of gun control.
Roth, no stranger to pouring on the reckless boundaries of surrealistic and sadistic porn imagery of torture, fuels his edgy, yet sluggish, edition of Death Wish with a tiresome and nostalgic regurgitation of the late action star Charles Bronson’s urban movie series from yesteryear. Sadly, Roth fails to capture the indescribable coldness, distant and somber rawness of the vintage vehicle that made the matured Bronson the rugged-faced revenge seeker that one did not cross four decades ago on the big screen.
Some loyal enthusiasts of the 1974 Michael Winner directed original will observe slight variations made to Roth’s updated version. More specifically, whereas Bronson’s Paul Kersey was a New York-based architect, Bruce Willis’ (“Sin City”) Kersey is a Chicago-based surgeon. Already haunted by the horrific emergency room crime-related casualties that are regularly rolled in daily for him to treat, Kersey becomes more defiant when he learns of the terrible violation concerning his family when wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue, “Battle of the Sexes”) and college-aged daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone, “Never Goin’ Back”) are viciously assaulted in their home. The shock factor resonates further when Lucy’s sudden death and Jordan’s comatose state takes its turbulent toll on the good doctor.
The stressed-out Kersey wants the blood to spill of not just the predators responsible for terrorizing his loved ones — he also wants the undesirables that he deems a threat to his immediate community to pay the ultimate price. And so with revenge in his back pocket and a lead on the perpetrators, a retaliatory Paul Kersey (“The Grim Reaper” per the local media) is born and streetwise criminals will have to get used to experiencing his unsavory wrath by way of assault weapons, surgical instruments and blunt objects.
Unfortunately, there is really no redeeming value behind the existence of this toothless grindhouse spectacle. The action sequences have all the vibrant thrust of a rusty sledgehammer. Joe Carnahan’s (“The Grey”) scattershot script does the film no particular favors to help along this heavy-handed, staid story. The supporting characters, from Paul’s brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio, “The Magnificent Seven”) to the selection of bland bad guys in the streets — played by Jack Kesy (“Baywatch”), Ian Matthews (“The Captive”), Beau Knapp (“Run All Night”), among others — are unmemorable as a whole. The original “Death Wish” with an icy Bronson at the helm at least managed to garner occasional threads of emotion, suspense, guilty blood thirst pleasure from the audience and a sense of dramatic, yet twisted, conviction. Here Willis, the now elder statesman of the action-thriller genre, is stiff and tone deaf in his turn as the doomed daddy-on-the-prowl and delivers a simple, one-dimensional terminator bogged down in mindless and messy nonsense.
No doubt though, Willis fans won’t feel too disappointed by his trademark creation of aimless, uninspired carnage even though they know his better days are far behind him. Nevertheless, for the rest of today’s movie-going masses, the relentlessly soured Death Wish, with its exaggerated and ridiculous gun play, and voluminous body counts, feels more like a prolonged death sentence of tedium than anything else. Although dated, the original is highly recommended viewing instead.