Shoot on sight

An imbecilic misfire

  • Published 3.03.18

Finding an opportune moment to release a high-profile movie celebrating a vigilante shooter is becoming a real challenge in the United States. Yet timing isn’t the only reason the new Death Wish, a so-called reimagining of Michael Winner’s 1974 thriller of the same name, is an imbecilic misfire.

The imaginations in question belong to the director Eli Roth and the writer Joe Carnahan, who move the action from New York City to Chicago, where Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis, in the role originated by Charles Bronson) is a trauma surgeon. The narrative remains roughly the same: When violent attackers murder Paul’s wife and leave his daughter comatose, he buys a gun — and a contraption for the home hilariously termed “tactical furniture” — dons a hoodie and starts hunting down the perpetrators.

Revelling in urban paranoia, the filmmakers present Paul as a locked-and-loaded hero in a city where weary detectives point to a wall plastered with unsolved cases and a radio jock — in a tone typically reserved for describing home runs — announces 48 murders in a single weekend. Yet where the original film (based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 anti-vigilantism novel) was a brutal psychological study of a bereaved man using random violence almost as a form of therapy, the tone here veers from rah-rah to jokey. Eli Roth, whose 2005 shocker, Hostel, took a shrewdly offensive swipe at First World arrogance, may lack Michael Winner’s vice-like grip on action scenes, but he can do better than give us dopey dialogue and vending-machine villains.

Morally unconflicted about its self-taught shooter, Death Wish promotes a vision of a city whose streets run red and whose residents run scared.

Jeannette Catsoulis

(The New York Times News Service)