Movie Review: Can Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” bring Bruce back from the Grave?


As subtle as an NRA recruitment video, and about as emotional, Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” is that horror filmmaker’s remake of a ’70s vigilante film that nobody was asking for.

Bruce Willis, looking decrepit and acting like he gave his last damn a dozen years ago, stars in what plays like an old man’s movie for angry, emasculated and frightened old men.

And Roth? The “Hostel” director turned horror impresario underscores the cold hard truth that as a director, he makes a helluva producer. Whatever he knew about creating tension and suspense he forgot in his zeal to show sucking neck wounds, brain splatter and the other effects of bullets tearing into his flesh. The movie has no pulse.

Changing the vigilante from Charles Bronson as a man we never for a second believe is an architect to Willis, whom we never believe for half a second is a surgeon, is the most twisted thing about this remake. Roth uses split screens and montages to show Dr. Paul Kersey locking and loading, intercut with images of him dealing with the bodily injuries caused by gunshot wounds in a Chicago hospital.

There’s a conflict a real director could have chewed on.

The set-up is the same, a man who feels helpless when his home is invaded, his wife and daughter (Elisabeth Shue, Camilla Morrone) attacked, a man who feels he has “failed at the most important thing a man does,” protecting his family.

He needs…a gun.

Because when you can’t make us feel a thing in delivering “Look what those animals did to my baby,” standing over his comatose college-bound daughter’s hospital bed, getting revenge with firearms is the only option.

Roth lets the picture dawdle as the Joe Carnahan script parrots a tirade of Fox News “Chicago– City of Death” talking points, an aural assault of talk radio hosts decrying their city’s GUN violence problem (Never mentioning the GUN part, or where the guns come from — lax-gun-law Mike Penceland). He lets Kersey work his way up from random street thugs to the actual perpetrators of the home invasion, guys he more or less stumbles across.

Roth puts all the movie’s creativity into finding ways to do in the bad guys. Not that there’s much to that, either. No, not every hoodlum is black or brown. That’s progress.


Willis, as Kersey, dons assorted hoodies, practices with a stolen gun and injects himself into the city’s “crime wave,” becoming the viral phenomenon the locals label “The Grim Reaper.” He smirks when he sees cell phone video of his first kills.

The cops (Dean Norris, Kimberley Elise) of course sympathize, as they joke about “animals killing animals” on the streets, and Roth picks the oddest places to give them close-ups — throwing up after biting into an “organic” energy bar.

Willis can’t muster up the heat to make us feel the fix-his-bloody-wounds from combat (“Surgeon, surger thyself?”) or get the sense of Kersey’s personal journey, from impotent, helpless victim to man with guns. Shue might convince us it’s a happy marriage, Willis cannot be bothered to summon up the warmth of faked attraction.

  Vincent D’Onofrio scores points as the doc’s more streetwise brother, a flawed man whom D’Onofrio gives humanity in every scene.

I’d compliment Len Cariou (“Blue Bloods”), who has a lovely moment as an elderly father burying his daughter, Paul’s wife. But Roth and Carnahan (“The A-Team,” “Smokin; Aces”) follow that with a moment so jarring and silly — grandpa pickin’ up his shootin’ iron — that you forget how real the guy seemed just seconds before.

Roth, who hasn’t directed that much for a guy with his grossly inflated (horror) reputation, can’t get out of his own way here. And any thoughts of this reviving a career Willis seems to have lost interest in bleed out long before the closing credits.


MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout

Cast: Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Camilla Morrone

Credits:Directed by Eli Roth, script by Joe Carnahan, based on the 1974 movie. An MGM Paramount release.

Running time: 1:47

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Movie Review: Can Eli Roth’s “Death Wish” bring Bruce back from the Grave?

  1. C.C. says:

    Ageist Bigotry.
    Your form of bigotry is not more acceptable than other form of bigotry.

  2. Matthew Perry says:

    It’s a revenge flick! Would you of rather had him sit down with the criminals and discuss their life choices? I guarantee that if Bruce Willis’ role went to a GLBTQ actor or a minority you would champion the film.

  3. Jack says:

    Good review. And judging by most of the reviews I have read, this film is trash. Gee, what a shock.

    • I used to be a Willis fan, had a number of quite pleasant interviews with him over the years. Nowadays, he can’t even be bothered to phone it in.

      • Jack says:

        Agreed. I used to enjoy most of his work as well. But just take a look at this sample list of movies Willis has starred in during the last decade. It’s astonishing. And his ‘performance’ in these so-called films are all the same – somewhere between phone-it-in & unconscious.

        2017 First Kill 2017 Once Upon a Time in Venice 2016 Marauders 2016 Precious Cargo 2015 Extraction 2015 Vice 2014 The Prince 2012 Fire with Fire 2012 The Cold Light of Day 2012 Lay the Favorite 2011 The Black Mamba 2011 Catch .44
        2011 Setup

        I wonder if money foreign money laundering criminals were involved in these movies. It’s almost like they were produced to lose money at the Box Office on purpose.

  4. P. McCarthy says:

    The film is formulaic but so celebratory of common sense, of course the left will hate it. God forbid people defend themselves! If only there had been a loaded gun in that safe when the mom with a gun to her head was forced to open it! Then there would be no movie. The film is a very timely warning against the moonbattery of the anti-gun left, those Hitlerites who can’t wait to disarm the population so the rest of us can be herded into ovens. The left is all about control of the individual. They loathe the freedom the Founders prescribed it the Constitution. Evil exists. It always will. People can choose to willing victims of it or not. Real men with families will choose to protect their own. Anti-gun pajama boys are those who will willingly sacrifice their own kids for their stupid politics. Only cowards will hate this film.

    • Fellows like you swallow Westerns and Revenge pictures at face value, ignoring the staggering number of studies that even “concealed weapons class” students panic when confronted with some “bad guy with a gun” that the NRA has ensured is armed to the teeth. Youtube that. Armed intruder surprise demos in GUN CLASSES lead to nobody getting their firearm out, safety off and shots fired in defense. Why do you think the cops didn’t run into Pulse or Parkland? It’s a movie, it’s not reality. And yet nitwits like you and the Orangutan are just sure sure sure YOU would run straight into an active shooter situation. Every weekend’s tally of “accidental” gun show shootings demonstrates just how delusional that “I’ll win the shootout” thinking (I hesitate to even call it that any more) is. This is an ill-timed (a decade of mass shootings, not just Pulse/Parkland) made this ill-advised and reveals something I’d never considered about Eli Roth. He’s just a hack and an a–hole. It’s a twisted agenda-driven movie made to play on your fears and feed your warped worldview. The ignorant, uneducated, fact-averse right will never be right on this. You’re no different from the Russians who pumped money into the NRA the last election cycle.

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