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It's no secret that reboots and revivals are everywhere. With nostalgia ruling the day in entertainment, just about any property from our past is up for grabs. The most recent of these is Eli Roth's new action flick Death Wish, starring the always badass Bruce Willis. This is the second film adaptation of the novel of the same name, the first of which hit theaters back in 1974. Casual contemporary moviegoers might not be overly familiar with the original Death Wish, allowing Roth to introduce the property for the first time for many. He did just that, although it'll likely go down as the worst version of the Brian Garfield novel.
The story opens up with the seemingly perfect Kersey family, who live in the suburbs of Chicago. Bruce Willis' protagonist Paul lives his happy surgeon life with wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue), and their endlessly perky high school grad Jordan (newcomer Camila Morrone). Paul's brother Frank (Vincent D'Onofrio) is also super involved in the family, although he sometimes has to borrow money from his brother. All is going well before the family is targeted for a robbery, seemingly at random.
Instead of robbing an empty house, both Lucy and Jordan are home during the invasion. While this should be an incident moviegoers are dreading, it's a welcomed change from the bubble-gum-cheesy world we were shown as Death Wish got through its first act exposition. After struggling with their masked assailants, Lucy is killed, and Jordan ends up in a coma. This puts both actresses out of the film for the majority of its runtime, while also ending the cliched dialogue that writers Joe Carnahan, Eli Roth, and Dean Georgaris assembled during the movie's first scenes.
Things escalate fairly quickly from there, with Paul going out into the hard Chicago streets looking for trouble with a stolen gun. His first foray into vigilante justice is one of the more thrilling scenes from the film, as he roughly stumbles through stopping an armed robbery. The whole incident is caught on someone's iPhone, and Paul (whose face wasn't seen) quickly goes viral. This choice is Death Wish's attempt at modernizing the story, alongside some signature Eli Roth moments of horror.
Once Death Wish settles into its action heavy thrill ride, there are certainly spots of sporadic movie magic. The violence is shocking and quick, and Eli Roth's creative way of killing off the bad guys will remind horror fans why he became such a smash with the Hostel franchise and other horror movies. The man knows how to make gore work, and he selectively uses it in Death Wish in some effective sequences.
Unfortunately, the timing of Death Wish's release feels somewhat inappropriate, which will no doubt affect its critical and box office performance. Following the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the subject of gun violence and control are almost constant in the news cycle. It's a sensitive subject for those on both sides of the aisle, so the overall themes of Death Wish are going to strike a chord. The mention of an AR-15 accompanied a moment of panic for me, and not in a way that director/writer Eli Roth was intending. Due to the news cycle and state of affairs in the country, it's unclear if folks will be willing to watch a guy go vigilante and shoot up criminals, even if it's Bruce Willis.
Bruce Willis is no doubt the biggest draw of Death Wish, as he's one of the industry's quintessential action stars. Still. And while it's fantastic to watch John McClane pop some bad guys, his performance in more still moments feels a bit stiff. He dutifully sheds a single tear during emotional scenes, and appears a bit uncomfortable when playing opposite Elisabeth Shue. Vincent D'Onofrio is the real standout of the film, reminding us why he's been working so much in the past few years. Model Camila Morrone makes her film debut as Paul's daughter Jordan, and spends the majority of her scenes cuddling up on her scene partner. Breaking Bad fans will also be psyched to see Dean Norris playing a Schrader-esque Detective Rains.
While Death Wish is surely problematic given the current climate, the pacing is solid, and the overall runtime sits at a tight 107 minutes. For those able to enjoy the subject matter, it'll no doubt be a fun weekend movie. But for more regular moviegoers and cinephiles, it can be a cringeworthy romp that has an occasional peak to its set of valleys.