Death Wish

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I liked my weapon selection better in Pulp Fiction, but this will work.

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This movie has two things I don’t care for when it comes to film. It’s an unnecessary remake, and it stars Bruce Willis. I’m just not a fan of his. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love Pulp Fiction, Sixth Sense, 12 Monkeys, and the underrated Unbreakable — which surprisingly, this reminded me of a few different times.

Yet for those people that think it’s sacrilege to take a Charles Bronson classic and mess with it…well, Bronson himself sullied the 1974 original with three or four sequels, one of which he did when he was 73-years-old (and we think Liam Neeson is too old for these types of roles).

What surprised me the most about this movie is that I had the same reactions I had when I was 10-years-old watching the original on TV. I was scared, excited, and enjoyed watching the bad guys get their comeuppance.

Now, critics are going to tear this movie apart, yet they all praised the overrated John Wick, which was similar. Critics are always going to talk about it possibly being irresponsible, as it might glorify guns to some people. Ya know what? Perhaps the timing is bad, but that’s not the studio’s fault. There are going to be violent video games, rap songs that glorify violence, and so many other things that aren’t the best influence on kids. This is an R-rated movie and for me, it was a guilty pleasure.

The original takes place in New York. These days, violent crime seems to be happening more in Chicago, where this takes place. In the original, Paul Kersey was an architect. In this, he’s an emergency room surgeon. That works well on a few levels. He can see first hand what shootings are doing to innocent people, especially a child that was shot by a local drug dealer (any guess on whether the vigilant doctor is going to make a house call on that one?).

There are also neat ways they updated this story. Cell phone use, angry soccer dads, and a few other things. The soccer dad doesn’t get the punch in the jaw we had hoped for, because Kersey isn’t the scrappy fighter he used to be. He’s a happily married man, whose daughter (Camila Morrone, an Argentine model and girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio) just got into NYU.

His wife (Elisabeth Shue, looking as stunning as she did 20 years ago) decides to make him a birthday cake when he’s called into work. Thieves break in and want the safe opened. And in one of the first things that made me realize the filmmakers would get things right — the way they handled a thug and the young daughter. After just watching the gratuitous stuff in Red Sparrow, it was refreshing how this was all handled.

There’s a character that wasn’t in the original, and that’s Paul’s brother (Vincent D’Onofrio). He’s an ex-con with a heart of gold. Again, the filmmakers get this right. He felt so natural in the part. These types of characters have been written so many times, and you always wonder why the family is putting up with him, or why he’s making all these bad decisions still. Aside from Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me, I can’t recall ever liking how the troubled brother character is written on screen. This movie gets it right.

Another thing the movie gets right are the homicide detectives (Dean Norris of Breaking Bad and Kimberly Elise). When a scene shows Norris opening a gluten free energy bar and spitting it out, I feared they were going to make these two bumbling idiots that just can’t figure out what’s going on. Instead, their characters were refreshingly done, always just a step behind.

One of the few things I didn’t care for was how quickly Kersey was given the name “Grim Reaper.” It was a terrific plot device to have various talk radio stations argue over vigilante violence, but…grim reaper? There wasn’t a better name for that? And, if you’re using that name, why not play the Blue Oyster Cult song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” instead of the overused AC/DC hit “Back in Black” (I will give them credit for slyly playing The Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby”).

All the gallows humor works nicely. And Eli Roth, known for his torture porn stuff, works to nice effect here. How can you not like a thug working on a car, getting tortured the way he does in this?

A cute, peppie blonde named Bethany (Kirby Bliss Blanton) works at a gun store, and her character was well written. They don’t make her ditzy. And it was nice that it wasn’t some redneck, gun lover that was trying to convince Kersey to buy various weapons.

I’m so glad this film was entertaining, because I wanted to share a story about something Eli Roth did that was so nice. The year he was at the San Diego International Film Festival (2014), I met a woman named Serena that was wheeling around an oxygen tank. She has a rare disease called LAM, and we talked a bit about that, and actors we loved. At this Film Festival, there was Beau Bridges, Allison Pill, Michelle Monaghan, and my favorite comedic actor of all time — Alan Arkin. Yet Serena was excited about seeing Eli Roth because she’s a fan of horror flicks. I asked her why she didn’t bring a DVD for him to autograph and she said it didn’t occur to her. So, I went to the caterers of the event, and asked if I could buy one of their knives. I slipped the head chef a $20 for what he called his “favorite knife.” She took it up to Roth to have him sign it. He laughed, autographed it, and they had a lovely conversation. And he hung around talking to other people that approached him. Such a classy thing to do, and he made many of us really happy that night.

I became friends with Serena, who a few months ago, had a lung transplant and is still in recovery. I’m hoping she’s well enough for me to take to this fun remake.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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