Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Meyer
As they say in Hollywood, “timing is everything.”
At the time, the folks over at MGM had the right idea pushing the unwanted remake of “Death Wish” from its original November release to March due to the subject matter - (the film exploits gun violence to the core) - and the Las Vegas shooting was fresh in the minds of the world. Now, it’s the second week in March and I watch “Death Wish” and can’t help but think how MGM didn’t push it back again. This time in light of the tragic Parkland shooting. I’m not trying to pound some political agenda here: I’m saying the film is not very sensitive to the matter of gun violence, and even has a line sprinkled in their about someone buying an AR-15 assault rifle and shooting up a bunch of people.
“Death Wish” is sending the wrong message at the wrong time.
Now, regardless of its timing in the wake of these tragic mass shootings, “Death Wish” isn’t a very good movie anyway. It’s so familiar, so generic, and so bland. Yes, Bruce Willis used to be the most bankable action star on the planet: but in Eli Roth’s unruly remake, he squints through every line of dialogue and forces all the heavy sappy stuff. But say what you will about Willis he looks the same in almost every movie, does he age? Here, he plays surgeon Paul Kersey (yes a surgeon) and he’s got the life he always wanted for his family. A big house, a daughter (Camila Morrone) getting ready to start college and a loving wife (Elisabeth Shue). I suppose one thing Roth could’ve done better in these earlier scenes is make us care about the family dynamic. All these encounters feel awkward, and it’s even more complete with a strapped-for cash-recently-released-from-prison uncle played by Vincent D’Onofrio.
After a home invasion goes horribly wrong, leaving his family in shambles Dr. Kersey is a father with almost nothing to lose, and he’s upset with the bumbling detectives (a crass Dean Norris and a clueless Kimberly Elise) and their lack of suspects. So he does what any sane man with a PhD would: he buys lots and lots of guns, watches a few YouTube videos on how to use them, and takes justice into his own hands. He eventually becomes dubbed “the grim reaper” and conveniently stumbles upon crime just from crossing the street. For being a doctor turned vigilante he sure has the best luck in finding the bad guys! I also feel sorry for the way Chicago is represented in this film: it’s painted like this horrible city where, if you live there, you’ll be shot at any second. Now, I know every city has their crime and Chicago has its fair share of issues but “Death Wish” doesn’t do any favors in the regard.
While I do give Roth and writer Joe Carnahan credit for some truly creative kills (the best is the one in the trailer where Kersey drops a car on top of someone.) But the motives undertaken by Willis character feel wrong. You really think your family wants you to buy an arsenal of weapons and shoot up everyone? These are the problems I seem to have with this genre of films. But what really whiffs in “Death Wish” is how out of sync with the times it truly is. There’s a shootout inside a nightclub towards the end of the movie, and it instantly reminded me of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Sure, movies like “John Wick: Chapter Two” and “Taken” also glorify this type of violence, but movies like the hyper caffeinated “John Wick” abide by a code and understand their camp, they tend to be ridiculous and over the top for that reason. “Death Wish” is not.
Take for example, another scene where Kersey is at a soccer game cheering on his daughter, and there’s this man shouting expletives for no reason other than to be a jackass. Kersey and this man eventually get into a stare down and exchange some words - it’s so obnoxious and adds NOTHING to the picture. Let alone, it’s never mentioned in any capacity again and I can’t figure out why Roth felt the need to include this scene in the final cut.
I suppose “Death Wish” will find an audience that won’t be turned off by it’s mean spirited ultra-violence, because they're definitely is an appetite for this sort of thing or else it wouldn’t get made. So whether it’s next year or last November, I don’t think the world ever needed this remake to begin with and it’s not the movie our country needs right now.