Back in the mid-1980’s, all the way until it’s destruction in 1995, I used to attend schlocky flicks at a seedy movie house known as ‘Southland Theater.’ It was the type of joint that proudly screened movies like House, Cyborg, Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and would have a cardboard standee and mock jail set for the release of, Lock Up. It was a mystical place, where your parents would drop you off to see, Lady and the Tramp, and not know they would show, The Lost Boys, as a double feature. Death Wish is the kind of picture that would have played there to a rapt audience in 1987, today it almost feels embarrassing to admit that, I had a good time watching this throwback piece of disposable cinema.
Affable emergency room surgeon, Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), is left shattered when his wife (Elizabeth Shue) is killed during a home invasion gone awry. His daughter is left in a catatonic state from her injuries and the doctor can’t believe that the authorities haven’t made any progress in their investigation. Then a patient is brought in and Paul notices that the man is wearing his stolen watch, this clue sets Kersey off into a world of vengeance and fury. It’s a path that leads from docile to homicidal in a short amount of time.
Apparently, Bruce Willis is intolerable on a film set, but the man is still a ‘movie star.’ He’s got so much charisma, experience, and presence that he can convey much while appearing to do little on-screen. In lesser projects, Willis has looked down-right un-interested, that look of detachment isn’t present in the actor’s eye this go-around. Eli Roth moves the picture along nicely and the modernized nuances of making Kersey a life-preserving surgeon, and moving the action to Chicago gives the film a tragic character in a harsh environment. I still think James Wan’s Death Sentence, (also taken from a novel by Brian Garfield) is still the best movie of this type, but Death Wish is another early year ultra-macho/action film surprise.
Director: Eli Roth
Stars: Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue