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Affirmational festishism

‘Death Wish’ is ill-timed

Bruce Willis in “Death Wish”

The crowd for Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” is older white dudes—the generation that remembers the original with Charles Bronson (and its increasingly exploitative sequels, courtesy of Cannon films) are the unironic target audience for a John McClane version of the good guy with a gun.

In this version, more of a re-adaptation of the namesake Brian Garfield novel than a remake of the ‘74 film, Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a brilliant trauma surgeon in Chicago, as opposed to Bronson’s New York architect. (This distinction makes for one of the film’s more brutal scenes.) Kersey has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), and college-bound daughter, Jordan (Camilla Morrone).

When a sketchy valet overhears the doctor will be out with his family for the night, he snaps a pic of the Kerseys’ home address, messaging it to a trio of burglars who promptly break in. Due to a snafu that doesn’t make a ton of sense (along with the lack of a security system, or how they knew about the safe), Lucy and Jordan return home and are taken hostage. The tense situation turns violent, with Lucy dead and Jordan clinging to life in a coma.

Paul, grieving and frustrated by the necessarily slow pace of two well-meaning detectives (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise), is enticed—after he gets the shit beat out of him for trying to stop a rape—by an Andy Sedaris-inspired commercial featuring hot girls firing assault rifles (a very Eli Roth moment). Upon learning about paperwork and waiting periods, Kersey instead snatches a gun from a dead gang member in the ER and decides to get to the bottom of the case himself.

It’s difficult to overstate how ill-timed “Death Wish” is. It’s a tacit validation of every conservative talking point about guns, just when the national conversation is shifting. The collective films always muddied the point of the novel—that vigilantism is just as criminal, inviting descent into anarchy. The script mostly succeeds at sidestepping the messy racial politics, but I have a feeling FOX News sycophants aren’t going to take away a message different from the one I did. The ends justify the means.

In that regard I’m conflicted about liking “Death Wish.” Willis is invested, even going full McClane for a couple of scenes. Roth shoots a retro-handsome film while utilizing Kersey’s change of profession to indulge in some typically satisfying gore. And Carnahan’s sinewy, unapologetic script knows exactly what it’s supposed to be.

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