At a late-morning Sunday showing of Eli Roth's Death Wish remake, a theater of about 65 let loose a few sparse chuckles at Bruce Willis' characteristic tough-guy-with-untreated-depression quips, jumped when Willis fired a pistol in an echo-y warehouse and gasped when a bad guy's head got crushed by a car like a Gallagher watermelon. But for the most part, the audience was as lifeless and disengaged as Roth's movie itself, a winky wannabe-exploitation drama that would like to condemn some gun violence while getting off on its hero's killing spree.
And yet, at the film's conclusion, as Willis' Dr. Kersey sprayed his final victim with bullets, the audience broke out into a smattering of dutiful applause.
What is wrong with us?
How does this film depart from Michael Winner's 1974 version, starring Charles Bronson? For one, Bronson's Kersey is a smoldering cauldron of paranoia and insanity, driven to excess of violence by the big, bad city. For all its faults, Winner's film still functions as gritty exploitation: It's shockingly over the top, and Bronson plays his role with grave seriousness. Willis' Kersey, however, is a suburban “feminized” male who seeks to de-escalate violence until he grows impatient with the cops' progress on his wife's murder case and starts shooting people in Chicago. Roth doesn't put us into Kersey's deteriorating psyche or even hint that Kersey might be losing his mind -- one would have to be to shoot up a bunch of strangers on a whim. Roth's movie is the good-guy-with-a-gun propaganda the NRA is just lapping up straight out of the toilet.
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