25 May 2018 | plpregent
As generic as it gets
Carrying the same title as the classic 1974 vigilante flick starring Charles Bronson, Eli Roth's latest installment is set in modern-day Chicago, a city plagued with gang violence. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a pacific, non-violent surgeon and family man, sees his life turn upside down when his wife (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter are brutally attacked by a bunch of serial home invading thugs. Feeling frustrated as he witnesses the helplessness of the local police department, who also happens to be flooded with similar cases, Kersey decides to take matters into his own hands, and begins hunting criminals through the streets of Chicago, helping a few people in need on the way, but ultimately tracking (and taking) down the men responsible for the violence inflicted to his family.
I think it's safe to say that, when it comes to vigilante flicks, it's only fair to expect a pretty typical storyline along those lines. What usually makes the difference is how the main character evolves throughout, how nasty the main villain is, how colourful the set of secondary characters is, and how creative the kills get. Unfortunately, Eli Roth's Death Wish does not pack enough surprises anywhere to make the film memorable in any way.
Having for protagonist a surgeon working in an emergency room is actually the best idea within this average-at-best script. It brings perhaps the most interesting moments in the entire film. Besides that, Kersey's psychological evolution throughout is beyond clichéd, both in terms of writing and delivery, as it's delivered mostly through a classic montage of shooting range practice, glimpses of appointments with a therapist, radio hosts debating whether Kersey is a hero or a criminal, and sequences of street shootings. Then it's all rinse and repeat. While Bruce Willis manages to build a likeable character in the first few scenes, this editing pattern quickly takes over and carries the audience from one killing sequence to the next, thereby earmarking character development as a secondary distraction.
Support characters are a complete shame, as they are generic and lack any depth whatsoever, despite being played by a great cast of actors (Elizabeth Shue, Dean Norris and Vincent D'Onofrio). You barely ever get to know any of the villains, which lack any personality whatsoever and always briefly appear on screen before getting brutally killed. Extremely basic characters.
Some of the kills are pretty graphic, but it's nothing we have not seen before. Considering how the entire film appears to gravitate around this particular aspect, it's a bit of a shame that they could not even come up with something original or striking, gritty violence.
Eli Roth's direction is pretty average. The intro sequence was fun to watch, as it was reminiscent of B series action flicks from the 70s, but as the film went on, montage after montage, the story and action unfold in quite a bland manner, without ever generating much excitement.
There is also a somewhat tangible attempt at bringing up the classic ambiguous questions stemming from individuals making their own justice, which ends up being yet another secondary, shallow distraction that never amounts to anything.
With all that being said, I sat through the whole film wondering what would happen next, which I suppose indicates that Death Wish still packs some entertainment value and is somewhat compelling. However, my appreciation for this type of story might have been what got me to the end credits. There are two or three one liners that managed to put a smile on my face, and few wince-inducing moments that'll help anyone interested in this type of film cruise to the end credits. Just don't expect to be surprised in any way.
There are many other films with the exact same storyline that are much worthier watches.