Film review: Bruce Willis take on Death Wish leaves a bitter taste in the mouth

Bruce Willis reprises Charles Bronson's role as a hoodie-clad angel of death in Death Wish
Damon Smith

SINCE writer-director Eli Roth made his debut with the low-budget horror Cabin Fever in 2002, the Massachusetts-born film-maker has enthusiastically embraced his reputation as one of contemporary cinema's maestros of gore.

Hostel and its sequel ramped up the nauseating and gratuitous evisceration, lighting a fuse on years of mindless torture porn.

Roth cannot resist at least one scene of splatter – a cranium exploding in stomach-churning close-up – in his morally bankrupt remake of the 1974 thriller, which cast Charles Bronson as a gun-toting husband thirsty for revenge.

The timing of the new Death Wish, with students marching across America in favour of tighter gun controls, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Joe Carnahan's script can barely contain its delight whenever someone handles a gun and pumps bullets into anything with a pulse, venerating the right to bear arms in pursuit of justice.

"If a man wants to protect what's his, he has to do it for himself," growls one elderly character, wielding a gun to scare off poachers on his property.

Even the police are apparently willing to turn a blind eye to cold-blooded murder if it lightens their workloads and replaces several bad guys on the streets with one snarling vigilante.

Oddly, Bruce Willis is most effective in Bronson's signature role before the carnage begins, hinting at a tenderness and vulnerability to his trauma surgeon before the man of science metamorphoses into a hoodie-clad angel of death.

The setting remains Chicago, a city divided across racial and class lines, and blighted with spiralling gun crime.

Dr Paul Kersey (Willis) tends to victims before returning home to his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and teenage daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone), who has just been accepted into New York University.

During one of Paul's late night shifts, three low-level criminals – Knox (Beau Knapp), Joe (Ronnie Gene Blevins) and Fish (Jack Kesy) – break into the Kerseys' home and surprise Lucy and Jordan.

The wife is shot dead and Lucy suffers a blow to her head, which leaves her barely clinging to life in a coma.

Detectives Raines (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise) vow to catch the culprits but their investigation fails to turn up leads.

"There's nothing I can do?" asks Paul.

"You can have faith," replies Detective Raines.

Death Wish makes feeble attempts to debate the righteousness of Paul's actions but on screen, it's a one-sided argument in favour of repeatedly pulling a trigger.

Willis quickly loses our sympathy, miraculously evading CTTV cameras as he hunts his prey, with dozens of witnesses apparently unable to identify him as anything other than an "old white guy".

Vincent D'Onofrio is lumbered with a thankless supporting role as Paul's hot-headed brother.

Suspense is surgically removed, inviting us to drift into unconsciousness like poor Jordan until the inevitable final reel tease of a sequel.

DEATH WISH (15, 107 mins) Thriller/Romance. Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, Beau Knapp, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Jack Kesy. Director: Eli Roth.

Released: April 6

RATING: 4/10

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