[Screen It]

(2018) (Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio) (R)

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Drama: An emergency room surgeon becomes a vigilante after a home invasion leaves his wife dead and their teenage daughter in a coma.
Things seem great for Dr. Paul Kersey (BRUCE WILLIS). Not only is he a successful emergency room surgeon working in Chicago, but his wife, Lucy (ELISABETH SHUE), is about to get her Ph.D. and their 17-year-old daughter, Jordan (CAMILA MORRONE), has just been accepted into college. To celebrate all of that and his birthday, they plan on going out to dinner with his nearly always broke brother, Frank (VINCENT D'ONOFRIO), but with another surgeon calling in sick, Paul must go into work.

While he's gone and believing the house should be empty, some thugs break in and then take Lucy and Jordan hostage during their robbery attempt. One thing leads to another and Lucy ends up murdered and Jordan in a coma. Det. Rains (DEAN NORRIS) and Det. Jackson (KIMBERLY ELISE) of the local police department are assigned the case, but with so many other murder cases and few leads, they don't get anywhere with their investigation.

Fed up with that and other criminal behavior in general, Paul becomes an anonymous vigilante, doling out deadly violence as he sees fit. His actions soon result in him becoming known as the Grim Reaper, with opinion divided about whether he's right or wrong in his actions. As he continues with his deadly spree, he eventually begins to zero in on those responsible for the attack on his family.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
As I get older, I've certainly further embraced the truth that nothing lasts forever in any aspect. Even things that are billions of years old, such as suns, eventually go away. Speaking of things that shine brightly, the same holds true for the careers of Hollywood's leading stars.

One minute (or, more accurately, usually a decade or two) you're the hottest thing around and then, like a light switch being thrown, you no longer are. Some of the "discarded" accept their cinematic fates and ride off into the sunset on their career earnings, while others continue on, sometimes long enough to embrace a resurgent interest in them as performers (such has occurred with Christopher Plummer of recent).

Others, however, stick it out and if they don't segue to TV, they end up appearing in "B" movies or, worse yet, straight to video productions few ever see. Nicolas Cage was the recent poster boy for that, but now that I've done a little digging it appears Bruce Willis is giving him a run for his money.

The well-known star was once huge in Hollywood due to appearing in blockbusters such as "Armageddon" and the earlier "Die Hard" pics. But from 2014 through early 2018, he headlined the following films: "The Prince," "Vice," "Extraction," "Precious Cargo," "Marauders," "Once Upon a Time in Venice," "First Kill" and "Acts of Violence," with only 2015's "Extraction" hitting theaters and earning -- wait for it...and don't go spending all that money in one place -- $16,775 at the worldwide box office.

His fortunes may change, if ever so briefly, with what's expected to be the muted to moderate box office take of "Death Wish." But after seeing this remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson vigilante film of the same name, methinks this one should have similarly headed to the straight to video bargain bin. Yes, it's that bad, and that doesn't even take into account its release date that unexpectedly has fallen right into the middle of a big gun debate issue in the U.S. following the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Of course, controversy can often do a film -- especially a misfire like this one -- a great deal of good in bringing attention to the offering. And I expect those who strongly support the Second Amendment might embrace its message of arming oneself to deal with criminals and such, while those in favor of stricter gun laws might point out the dangers of turning ordinary citizens into murderous vigilantes.

Only time will tell how all of that plays out, but I seriously doubt director Eli Roth (he of "Cabin Fever" and the two "Hostel" flicks fame/notoriety) was interested in exploring either side of that issue in anything beyond the superficial and default nature of the premise.

Like the now 45-year-old Bronson film that likewise was based on Brian Garfield's 1972 novel of the same name, this one revolves around an ordinary ER surgeon (Willis) who becomes a vigilante after the cops (personified by Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise) don't quickly solve the murder of his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and attack on their daughter (Camila Morrone), the latter who's now in a coma.

Aside from a split-screen montage sequence showing the doc trying to save gunshot wound victims in the ER on one side and learning how to shoot and disassemble his firearm on the other, Roth doesn't explore the strained dichotomy of a man who's sworn to save lives while simultaneously taking others. That could have led to an interesting look at all things gun and violence related, as well as created a mesmerizingly complex character. But Roth and company don't want any part of that and simply turn this into an increasingly preposterous and laborious vigilante fantasy flick.

It's all designed simply to offer up the director's trademark cinematic carnage, such as one moment when it's not enough for Willis' character to riddle a bad guy with gunfire and have him fall from a second story foyer down to the floor below, but we must also see and hear the man's neck snap upon impact with the flooring.

In another moment of catharsis for the protagonist and any viewers willingly going along for the comeuppance ride, he kills a bad guy with the sort of quip once associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. After a bit of automotive-related torture, he informs his victim that "Jack" is going to dispatch him and then proceeds to yank a jack out from under a vehicle that proceeds to fall onto the man on the floor, squashing his head.

Had the film been a full-on satire from the get-go, that sort of material could have worked in its own warped way, but the pic -- penned by Joe Carnahan back when he was going to direct it and long before Roth got a hold of it -- starts off as a straight drama. But it then slowly and increasingly surely starts turning ever so comical and outrageous, with the various kills being the only thing that ultimately matters.

In the end, even that's not enough to save the day. And it doesn't make any difference whether Roth supports vigilantism or is mocking it by increasingly steering the story into satire as it's bad any way you look at it.

It certainly didn't help that I never bought into Willis as an ER surgeon (he appears distracted and only going through the required pretend motions) and didn't believe for a moment the grief his character is supposed to be displaying up on the screen (ditto).

It all feels clumsily manufactured just to get us to the violence, but since we don't empathize with the character -- or really feel anything for that matter as he's nothing more than a cartoon of sorts -- his actions don't impact us (beyond the wincing some will do while others cheer on the carnage).

The villains get scant screen time and only fleeting moments of behaving like antagonists, while D'Onofrio is wasted as the concerned brother character and Norris and Elise can't do anything with their detective characters as they obviously have no idea how they're supposed to be playing them, what with the not-so-subtle shifts in the story's tone.

I have no idea if this offering will gain enough traction in today's climate to resurrect Willis' star (please don't let there be another "Death Wish 2," "More Deadly Wishes" and "The Deadliest Wish"), but it never should have seen the light of day, let alone a projector. Belonging alongside all of the actor's other recent misfires, "Death Wish" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed February 28, 2018 / Posted March 2, 2018

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