Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Cinematic Consumption - DEATH WISH 3

Death Wish 3 is not a good movie. In fact, it is - perhaps unsurprisingly - a pretty terrible one. However, unlike the vile second franchise entry, this flick figures out its tone from the very beginning and rides it out to the bitter, hilarious end. No one comes out of the film smelling rosy, but I'll be damned if I didn't laugh my fool head off throughout.

The fun continues as eternally cursed architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to his former hometown of New York. Now, you'll be forgiven for thinking the city looks a little odd, as the picture was shot in London. Which looks nothing like New York. At all. Rather, the entire film almost seems to unfold at the same bombed-out location where the finale of Saving Private Ryan took place; all mountains of debris, crumbling brick buildings and poorly-maintained, empty streets. Populating the town is roughly thirty sadistic gangland punks and about a dozen mournful citizens (the latter of which trudge, shoulders slumped and heads down, solemnly along the sidewalks waiting to have their grocery bags knocked out of their hands or purses stolen - an occurence which takes place every 5 mins or so in the movie.) I hate to blame the victim, but when you're outnumbered by bloodthirsty psychopaths who attack you on a daily basis, it's probably high-time to wise up and peruse the real estate ads.

Anyhow, Kersey shows up at an old friend's house, only to find him savagely beaten. After his final side-splittingly operatic death rattle, the cops bust in and arrest the baffled former vigilante. But all is not as it seems. Dimwitted police chief Shriker (Ed Lauter) - whose office looks like it was constructed in an elementary school classroom - decides that the old gun-wielding lunatic is the lesser of two evils and sets him loose, with a plea that he keep the cops informed of his activities. Which he promptly doesn't. Soon, the gang starts picking off saintly locals and Kersey is pressed back into action. By the end, the entire "city" is at war, as smiling old folks and shopkeepers, following the senior citizen ass-kicker's noble example, take up arms and blow every single facepaint-wearing hoodlum to hell. It's the ultimate NRA wetdream.

Yesterday, I made no attempt to hide my disgust for Death Wish II (Notice how the roman numerals disappeared with this chapter? Too bad. I really prefer uniformity in my movie titles), yet I had an ironic blast with this installment. Returning director Michael Winner has made an amusingly  moronic campfest, full of ludicrous ultraviolence, phony sets and plenty 'o  kroovy, that never for one moment convinces the viewer that it's transpiring in anything resembling the real world. This is Bronsonland, dammit, and it's a deliriously silly place to be, where everyone dies oh-so-spectacularly and youths dress like Billy Idol's reject back-up band. Even the horrific violence against the elderly is forgiveable as - on-screen - it's committed solely on overweight stunt men in embarrassing wigs. In fact, the only depressing element of Death Wish 3 is having to watch Martin Balsam, the great character actor who appeared in Psycho, Cape Fear and 12 Angry Men, cash a paycheck.

Actually, come to think of it, the love story between Kersey and a ditzy public defender (played badly by Deborah Raffin, who was 32 years younger than Bronson. Ick.) was pretty freakin' grim to endure too.

The Death Wish franchise is beginning to remind me of a far less awesome version of the Rambo series. The first is an effective character piece, while the follow-ups devolve into carnage-strewn blast-o-ramas. Does this mean that Death Wish 4: The Crackdown or Death Wish V: The Face of Death (Obviously, I can't stop now!) will manage, like 2008's Rambo, to unite the opposing strengths of the first and later films and create a satisfying whole?  Honestly, I ain't holding my breath.

1.5 out of 5

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