There’s a level of discomfort that pervades the remake of Death Wish beyond the lackluster quality of the film itself.
One cringe-worthy scene involves a joke by a gun-store employee about the ease of passing background checks. Then you have Bruce Willis playing an average Joe mowing down folks on public streets with an AR-15.
Is it a question of bad timing or poor taste? The topical intent of such sequences can be debated, whether they’re genuinely satirical or socially relevant, or legitimately germane to the story of a man who transforms into a bloodthirsty vigilante after his family is attacked.
Either way, moviegoers familiar with the original 1974 film know will know what they’re getting into, even if this attempt to refresh the material by director Eli Roth (Hostel) doesn’t commit itself fully as either an examination of violence in contemporary culture or as a badass revenge thriller filled with street justice and macho posturing.
Willis takes over the Paul Kersey role popularized by Charles Bronson in the first Death Wish (and multiple sequels). The action shifts the action from New York to Chicago, where Kersey is a surgeon called in for an ER shift on his birthday.
Later that night, his wife (Elisabeth Shue) is killed and his teenage daughter (Camila Morrone) is in a coma — at the same hospital where Paul works — following a home-invasion robbery. Paul’s resulting grief, coupled with frustration over the police investigation, turns into fuel for revenge against the assailants.
Donning a hoodie and teaching himself how to master weaponry, the mild-mannered doctor conceals his identity while taking out his anger on anonymous criminals on the streets, gaining notoriety both as a working-class hero and as an unhinged killing machine.
Besides gun control, the formulaic screenplay by Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) offers a half-hearted critique of the rising murder rate in Chicago and online privacy in a connected world. However, such issues are relegated to the backburner in favor of obligatory genre staples.
The visual approach is slick where it should have been gritty, even if Willis brings his tough-guy charisma and Roth stages some creatively choreographed confrontations and carnage.
While the original Death Wish generated controversy for a perceived glorification of vigilante violence, remaking it in such a desensitized world yields just the opposite — generating only shrugs.