The prospect of an Eli Roth-directed, Bruce Willis-led remake of Death Wish in 2018 never did sound like an especially good idea. The result? Not an especially good film. It’s not destined to be the worst movie of the year or even the worst action-thriller, but it may wind up as one of the least consequential, given that there isn’t anything in this movie that hasn’t been found in better movies and, save for some very extreme violence, there isn’t anything in Death Wish that’s even remotely interesting.
And I wish that weren’t the case. There are hints that the movie wanted to be about more than it is. Every few scenes, we hear radio DJs talk about the awful violence on the streets of Chicago, and there’s a scene where the protagonist is walked through the ridiculously easy steps one has to go through in order to purchase a gun. But these aren’t capitalized on at all. Guns are featured frequently and solve many problems. If it at any point was an anti-gun movie, it didn’t stay that way throughout its production.
That protagonist is a surgeon named Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis). He works hard, lives in a nice house, is able to afford expensive stuff, and has a wonderful family. His wife (Elisabeth Shue) is working on finally finishing her PHD and his daughter (Camila Morrone) just got accepted into university. Life is good. Until one night when there’s a burglary, his wife is killed, and his daughter is left in a coma.
Because police officers in non-cop movies never solve major crimes, Dr. Kersey takes things into his own hands. By happenstance, he becomes a vigilante. Then he does it on purpose. Then clues to the burglary fall into his lap. He’s a very lucky man, at least when it comes to getting justice. What results from these scenes is a few short bursts of extreme violence, absolutely no tension, and a theoretical catharsis from watching bad people get killed. Your mileage may vary.
Death Wish is a pointless experience to put yourself through.
The story is not involving. We understand he’s mad—we got enough time with him and his family to get that they love each other—and that the police isn’t able to help him at the moment. Death Wish plays out like a fantasy, one in which a normal guy gets really good at shooting a gun and then takes out several bad people without breaking much of a sweat. All … just to do just that. He doesn’t start out wanting to get revenge, either; that happens, but only because of random luck. At least three parts of this movie occur simply because of chance.
There isn’t much action, but it’s not trying to be an action movie—despite being listed as an “action-thriller.” It’s a thriller, pure and simple. But it probably needed the action element to be more entertaining, or maybe more to the “mystery” than going from person to person and getting the information needed thanks to luck or intimidation. There’s nothing for us to figure out or think about. We’re just watching this guy go around killing people. Bad people, but still.
Bruce Willis hasn’t been compelling in a movie for several years and is only moderately better here. He does some actual acting, but most of the time does this quiet, sleepy, reserved thing he’s mostly done for the last little while. Vincent D’Onofrio shows up as his money-strapped brother who seems a little … off, I guess, and probably had a bigger role in an earlier version of the script. Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise play the two detectives assigned to Dr. Kersey’s case. They’re fine. It’s not an actors’ movie anyway.
Death Wish is a pointless experience to put yourself through. It has some gruesome violence, lots of guns which are features more prominently than many of the actors, and a little bit of acting from Bruce Willis—which is more than he’s done in most of his recent films. Still, without much action and without a mystery or something to engage our brains, we’re just watching a straightforward movie about a dude going around killing other dudes. Sometimes graphically, but never with any room for suspense. It’s too boring to be worth anyone’s time.
Conclusion: Death Wish lacks any reason to exist.
Recommendation: If you need a movie with this premise, just watch the original Death Wish.