Blu-ray Review: Death Wish (2018)

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The Death Wish remake has long been in gestation, with Sylvester Stallone dead-set on re-telling the revenge-based story of Paul Kersey about a decade ago. Of course the Charles Bronson original, released in 1974, has spawned about a million copycats so close in tone that they are practically quasi-remakes themselves. See the trailers for the upcoming Jennifer Garner thriller Peppermint for what appears to be only the most recent of these.

Of course, Bronson himself went on to star in four sequels over the course of two decades. But the official remake, credited as based on both the 1972 source novel by Brian Garfield and the '74 screenplay by Wendell Mayes, stars Bruce Willis. Though it didn't knock anyone out earlier this year at the box office, my suspicion is that the Eli Roth-directed film will find a wider audience now that it's on Blu-ray (from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment—also 4K UltraHD, standard DVD, and VOD). With the national gun debate reaching fever pitch in light of multiple recent mass shootings, Death Wish hit screens at arguably the worst possible time—not to mention being sold as a sort of wink-wink dark comedy. 

Death Wish Video_Blu-ray-DVD-VOD_June 5.png Not only is Roth's film not particularly funny, it's actually a pretty solidly-crafted thriller. It's also a welcome return to a high-profile, big-screen starring role for Willis. Despite a few moments of generally ill-advised comic relief (a well-timed bowling ball on the head moment is straight out of Looney Tunes), Willis and Roth play things straight. This time around it's Dr. Paul Kersey, a Chicago-based surgeon who sometimes winds up saving cop-killing criminals while the actual officers die on the table. It's the (bad) luck of the draw for a surgeon, what with the Hippocratic Oath. He saves who he can, while the ones he cannot end up perishing.

One night he's called away from his own birthday celebration with wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and college-bound daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) for emergency surgery. Their home is subsequently broken into and both Lucy and Jordan wind up shot—rushed into the ER during Paul's shift. With his life turned topsy-turvy, and the police investigation—led by Detective Raines (Dean Norris) and Detective Jackson (Kimberly Elise)—stalling, Paul takes the law into his own hands. In the midst of Chicago's violent crime problem (the cause of many real-life headlines and widespread concern), Paul is dubbed the "Grim Reaper" as he dons a hoodie and begins a relentless search for the men who robbed his house and robbed him of his life in general. 
death wish feat.jpg Death Wish is basically an old-fashioned exploitation flick and Roth turns the gore factor to 11 at some key moments. But there's just enough actual thoughtfulness (represented largely by radio hosts Sway and Matthew "Mancow" Muller, playing themselves) to get a discussion going. As Paul sees it, he's just a man trying to protect his home and lifestyle. He views the home invasion and subsequent shootings of his family as a personal failure. Willis digs deep to tap some primal emotions as he enacts his trail of revenge (which spills over, controversially, into areas not directly related to his personal situation). His "Grim Reaper" activities form the basis of a bizarre type of therapy, one that's seemingly far more helpful to him than the psychiatrist (Wendy Crewson) he sees regularly.

There's a strange side character in Paul's brother Frank (Vincent D'Onofrio) that is left hanging like a question mark. And the climactic act is all too conventional to offer any real surprises. But as a no-frills action thriller, the new Death Wish is easily recommended for fans of Eli Roth, Bruce Willis, and/or revenge-minded films in general.

Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray includes a pretty solid 'making of' featurette, "Vengeance and Vision: Directing Death Wish." Roth and producer Roger Birnbaum provide audio commentary, recorded the day the film was released to theaters. There are a few deleted scenes (also with commentary by Roth and Birnbaum). And we see some extended footage of both Sway and Mancow riffing (in the style of their talk shows) about the "Grim Reaper," bits of which were then edited into the film.

Death Wish breaks no new ground, but that doesn't keep it from being entertaining. And with Father's Day fast approaching, this one would make a great addition to Dad's movie library if he's a fan of lean-and-mean action.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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