Death Wish is so bad it isn’t even firing blanks.
“Look at what these animals did to my baby,” says Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) as he stands over the comatose body of his college-bound daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), referring to the three masked men who broke into his home, robbed his safe, left his daughter in a vegetative state and murdered his wife (Elisabeth Shue). With such a traumatic event coursing through this surgeon’s psyche, he takes the only reasonable course of action—embarking on a rampage of vigilantism that finds him killing Chicago criminals in cold blood, hoping to eventually cross paths with the men responsible for tearing his world apart.
Much like the original 1974 Michael Winner film of the same name, Eli Roth’s ultra-violent re-imagining of Death Wish is fairly disinterested in the moral ramifications of vigilante justice. It deserves the same criticisms received by Winner’s take more than 40 years ago, especially considering the source novel by Brian Garfield openly condemned vigilantism in its prose. If the 1974 version and the subsequent four franchise films that followed are considered celebrations of vigilante bloodshed, then Eli Roth’s movie is a multi-million-dollar firework display that spells out “I <3 Violence" in the night sky. Roth's film seems fairly disinterested in taking a side on the political spectrum of its content, instead leaving the task to real-life radio pundits like Sway and Mancow Muller who punctuate the film's narrative with colorful commentary on whether the actions of a vigilante killer are justified. Their presence in the film presents an interesting debate, as does Roth's focus on the meme-able social media viralness of violent acts in America, but the film is constantly in a hypocritical tug-of-war with itself. This is a work that attempts to criticize violence made by a filmmaker who puts every effort into making each kill as gory and realistic as possible. It features Willis visiting a gun shop where a young blonde with pushed-up cleavage explains to him just how easy the gun-buying process is, so that people will nod and think to themselves, "Oh, how relevant." But then these same people will turn around and cheer as Willis takes out the bad guys one by one in bullet-ridden acts of rage. Death Wish is a deceitful film designed for an audience willing to be conned; an insincere social commentary that plays off strictly as a blood-splattered revenge fantasy with popcorn-munching entertainment value (except it’s so boring, you can essentially consider it blood-colored wallpaper). Its twofaced motivations transform the film from mere irresponsibility into something far more reprehensible. Due to its “a good guy with a gun” subject matter and an amplified, assault-weapon-riddled finale, one would expect Death Wish to be the headliner at the (thankfully) nonexistent National Rifle Association Film Festival. It is not, by any means, the film we need right now, in this current climate. But, regardless of political atmosphere or your stance on the gun debate, Roth’s film is still derivative, duplicitous and atrociously tone-deaf horse shit.
Thus, Death Wish continues the downward spiral of Eli Roth, a filmmaker who adores his genre influences yet has no idea how to execute this admiration properly. His last three films— The Green Inferno, Knock Knock and now Death Wish—have taken on the exploitative genres of cannibalism, sex and revenge, respectively, but none have been able to stick the landing in honoring their grindhouse roots. These films are a stark contrast to the promising start from the first half of Roth’s current filmography, which included the first two Hostel films and the spirited spin on the cabin-in-the-woods genre, Cabin Fever. His recent works still rejoice in graphic, cringe-worthy violence, but they’ve done so with the firepower of a handgun with an empty chamber. Click. Click. Click. Death Wish is so bad it isn’t even firing blanks.