By: Nick van Dinther
Bruce Willis is at his best when he’s playing the sarcastic, one-lining ass kicker. In Eli Roth’s Death Wish, that’s exactly who audiences get.
When his wife and daughter are brutally attacked in a home invasion, Paul Kersey (Willis) decides to take the law into his own hands by going after the people responsible. There’s nothing revolutionary about that premise but, then again, there’s nothing revolutionary about this movie. That’s not a bad thing though. This is a cliché heavy, occasionally cheesy, and very violent action flick, which is all by design.
This initially becomes clear when movie goers hear the score and soundtrack. Every scene is telegraphed strongly based on the music leading into it (when AC/DC’s “Back in Black” starts up, you know a big action sequence is about to take place). There’s nothing subtle in Roth’s remake, making the film a great homage to 80’s and 90’s action flicks. The similarities to those eras continue with some wonderfully campy one-liners and the simple twist-free screenplay written by Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, The Grey).
However, using a reimagined outline of the original 1974 Death Wish, Carnahan’s story is still pretty weak. There are some very unrealistic moments that are justified only as a means of getting to the next scene. On one hand, it’s lazy storytelling but, on the other, this is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously – a little suspension of disbelief isn’t a big ask from the audience. Eli Roth tries make up for the lack of realism in the violence. It’s brash, gritty, and the level of carnage escalates throughout the film. Roth, as usual, plays for the shock factor, giving viewers a few moments that will force some to look away.
Willis is obviously the standout in Death Wish; he’s clearly having fun with the character. It’s a return to form for the Die Hard actor, and his energy rubs off on his co-stars (specifically Vincent D’Onofrio and Dean Norris, who are both enjoying themselves). Despite the serious set-up, there are moments of comedy for these characters, and the cast plays perfectly into the throwback mould. However, no one hits those comedic beats as well as Mr. Willis. While it’s not quite time to call this performance a comeback, this is his best performance since Looper. With the upcoming Unbreakable sequel Glass as his next big project, he has a chance to put himself back on the big screen radar.
Death Wish is an entertaining popcorn flick. It’s not necessarily bringing anything new to the table – more a sampler of greatest hits – but, it’s a fun moviegoing experience nonetheless.
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Nick van Dinther: @NickVanDinther