Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Death Wish II

While there are notable exceptions (Terminator 2 and The Color of Money come to mind), it is usually a bad sign when a sequel to a successful movie is made many years after the original.  In case you missed the surprisingly good Death Wish, here's a recap: Paul Kersey's wife and daughter were raped and his wife murdered by some home invading street thugs, led by Jeff Goldblum.  With no leads, the police case looks thin and Kersey needs an outlet for his rage, which he finds by murdering random street thugs.  Now, the tag line for this movie seems to stray a bit from this idea: "When murder and rape invade your home, and the cops can't stop it...This man will.  His way."  That almost makes Kersey seem like a killer-for-hire, out to offer his services to the many crime victims that the police are unable to help (or help but are unable to help satisfactorily).  That seems like a pretty big thematic leap from the original film, but I'll give this the benefit of the doubt, since the original was pretty good and both Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner return to the series.

It has been eight years since the events of Death Wish, and Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) seems to have moved past the death of his wife in that film.  He now has a young girlfriend (his real-life wife Jill Ireland) and they decide to take Kersey's daughter, Carol (Robin Sherwood), out for a walk in the park; Carol has begun to speak again, after years of near-catatonia following the rape and the presumed divorce from her husband (at least, he's not mentioned in this movie at all).  The park is filled with elderly people, mothers with their children, and women hanging out with their female friends.  This makes Kersey the only logical target for a street gang to pickpocket.  Street gangs (and, really, all bad dudes) love a challenge, you know.  Kersey realizes what has happened and the gang scatters; Kersey picks one and chases his into an alley, beats him up, but doesn't find his wallet.  Kersey returns to his daughter and girlfriend and continues their day out.  The street gang's natural response to such a challenge is to use Kersey's ID to locate his home and break in.  They take turns raping Kersey's maid until he comes home with his daughter.  Then, Kersey is knocked unconscious, his maid is murdered, and Carol is kidnapped.  The gang later takes Carol to an abandoned warehouse, where she is raped until she escapes long enough to jump out a window and impale herself on a fence.  I know what you're thinking...enough comedy, where's the action?  Well, the police try to help Kersey, but he lies to them, claiming that he cannot identify his attackers.  That is when he begins to stalk the streets at night, armed, looking for the men who ruined his life...again.  He's pretty good at finding them, too, since the movie is only 88 minutes long.  The question remains, though...will Kessler's love of murdering low-rent criminals get in the way of his love of his girlfriend?  Yes, yes it will.

As you can probably guess from all the rape and death, Death Wish II is a great date movie, the type that makes you look meaningfully in your lover's eyes and say, "I would murder so many people for you, if you only let me."  If that line doesn't work for you on Valentine's Day, then you'll never seal the deal.

On that note, it's probably for the best that we shift gears and talk about the casting and direction.  This is a Charles Bronson vehicle, so you can be assured that there will be at least one virtuoso performance here, and by "virtuoso performance," I of course mean "Easter Island statue impression."  The rest of the sympathetic actors are just as bad as Charlie.  Jill Ireland and Robin Sherwood put forth the absolute minimum amount of effort required to qualify as acting and the literally dozens of supporting cast members deliver two, maybe three lines, and then are never seen again.  You know the acting is bad when a career television actor like Vincent Gardenia provides one of the few glimpses of a professional acting performance.  The street thugs in the movie don't necessarily act well, but they are certainly the most entertaining aspect of the film.  C'mon, who doesn't love the idea of Laurence Fishburne in some truly fantastic 80s sunglasses?  Kevyn Major Howard sports a fantastic skullet and adds some much-needed high-pitched laughter and belly shirts to the mix.  And when I'm praising an actor's haircut, you can tell I've run out of nice things to say about the movie.  Michael Winner apparently chose not to do much when directing this movie.  I would give up early, too, if I had to direct Charles Bronson after 1975.  On the bright side, the movie is pretty short and it is rare for more than ten minutes to pass without some sort of violence, so I guess Winner's legacy in this film breaks even.

This is not a movie that is difficult to predict.  Bronson is wronged, Bronson chooses to not involve the police, and Bronson kills those that wronged him.  What is unusual about the movie is just how stupid it is on so many levels.  Jimmy Page recorded the score to the movie, but the only time you can tell that a guitar god is involved is during the opening credit sequence. Call me crazy, but if I had Jimmy Page score my film, you would know it; at the very least, I would include the opening thrashes of "Good Times, Bad Times" whenever Kessler kills somebody.  That reminds me...Kessler is not gunning for just any criminal in this movie (which is what makes Death Wish so compelling), he is hunting for five specific punks in Los Angeles.  That might sound difficult, but Kessler (or the screenwriter) makes it look easy.  What also makes it easy is the fact that Kessler isn't limiting himself to killing those thugs; he kills five other street urchins because they interfered with his hunt.  What was up with that street gang, anyway?  I get the vintage 80s clothes and jive talkin', but after Kessler has killed two of the five gang members, the rest are still hanging out in dark, secluded areas and dancing with each other while listening to a boombox.  Oh, and Laurence Fishburne, here's a tip: boomboxes do not protect your face from bullets.  In the scene where that happens, Kessler decides to ambush the gang members in the middle of an arms deal.  Apparently, the best time to attack your enemy is when they have access to a few dozen fully automatic weapons.  Vincent Gardenia's character is then mowed down by the gang members and his final words on this earth were "Get the bastards for me."  Really?  Not "I can't believe you got me shot, Bronson," or "This is why vigilantism is illegal"?  How about "This is why the police call for back-up"?  He is a much more forgiving man than I.

That's really my main problem with this movie.  I fully support most dumb action movies where the hero takes the law into his own hands, but you need to see how "the system" isn't working in order to justify the character's actions.  Charles Bronson purposefully misleads the police, forcing them into ineffectiveness.  I'm okay with that choice, too, but when a police officer dies because Bronson stupidly attacks the gang during their arms deal, that cop shouldn't be endorsing Bronson's crusade.  I think that scene encapsulates this movie best because it shows how amateurish and dangerous Bronson is, but he is encouraged to keep killing more.  Had that scene ended with some sort of accusation of Bronson, or at least some emotional impact, then the movie could have been mediocre.  As it stands, though, it is depressing and insultingly idiotic in a way that gratuitous violence cannot fix.

1 comment:

  1. There is a chapter in Dennis Rodman's As Bad As I Want To Be entitled Death Wish. Let me tell ya, the book is nothing like the movie. For instance, in the book, Rodman rebounds way more than in the movie. In fact, I do not recall a single rebound in the movie.