Death Sentence stars Kevin Bacon as Nick Hume, a bookish insurance adjuster who inexplicably turns into Rambo when his family in threatens. To call the film ludicrous is something of an understatement. It’s clunky and poorly thought out; the only thing worse than the movie’s cliché vengeance script is the clunky way James Wan directs it.
It starts when Nick’s oldest son is murdered by a bunch of cartoonish thugs in the middle of a robbery. When I say they’re cartoonish, I really mean it. They drive around in formation, hauling ass in noisy muscle cars with flames painted on the side of them. The gang he’s up against looks like something that fell off the back of a bad pulp novel, white guys running around with shaved heads and cheap leather jackets, wielding machetes in the middle of the city for no other reason that I can think of than that they generate more blood for Wan to splash on his camera.
The murder of his kid pushes Nick over the edge, and he declares war on the gangbangers who did it. Soon his entire family is in jeopardy, and the movie becomes about whether or not he can save him. It’s all of course, utterly ridiculous since five minutes ago Nick was sitting in a glorified cubicle pouring over risk assessments. Now he’s suddenly a badass weapons expert and hand to hand combat specialist. Come on Death Sentence, at least give us one of those idiotic training montages.
For most of its running time, the film alternates between overly emotive, poorly delivered speeches and clunky action sequences. The movie’s heavy emotional components never work, because the actors are clueless and don’t ever seem to know what to do with them. The film’s gritty action beats fall flat on their face because they’re clumsily staged and impossible to buy into. For instance in one of the movie’s most tense, big-action moments Kevin Bacon is supposed to climb out the front window of a car right before it falls off a building. Instead of getting the hell out of there as fast as he can, he hangs out just sort of biding his time, only leaping out of the car right as it gets to the edge, as if he somehow knew there was an audience watching and it’d make things more exciting if he escaped at the last minute.
On the positive side, John Goodman has a passively enjoyable cameo as a fat, sweaty arms dealer and at least Death Sentence isn’t loaded down with bad CGI and cheesy special effects. Wan sticks to practical stunts and does his best to deliver gritty, hard edged action. He fails, but at least the guy tried. That’s more than we usually get in the standard, modern revenge flick.