Last of the Monster Kids

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish V

The year was 1993. Cannon was long gone, replaced by limping indie distributor 21st Century Film Corporation. Charles Bronson was seventy-two, only separated three years from the death of long-time wife Jill Ireland, and reportedly dissatisfied with the direction of his career. I can’t imagine anybody thought these where the ideal circumstances to make a fifth film in the long-in-the-tooth “Death Wish” franchise and yet, the uninspired entitled “Death Wish V: The Face of Death” rolled into production. It was Bronson last theatrical film. He was resigned to television flicks for the rest of his career.

Living in New York again and looking every bit as jowly and wrinkled as you’d expect a man in his seventies to look, Paul Kersey is teaching architecture and taking it easy. He hasn’t killed creeps in years. Showing a stunning lack of pattern recognition, Paul is involved in a foolhardy romantic relationship with Olivia, a fashion designer. Predictably, she is being threatened by her ex-husband and father of her thirteen year old daughter, Tommy O’Shea, a psychotic Irish mobster. I don’t suppose you can see where this is going? Somehow, Paul isn’t all ready ventilating these creeps and, literally minutes after proposing to her, Olivia has her face brutally smashed into a bathroom mirror by a cross-dressing creep. Interacting with the cops and witness protection agents like Batman interacts with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, Kersey quickly gets involved with the police’s investigation of O’Shea’s crimes. After his fiancĂ© is gunned down on the roof of their home and O’Shea gets custody of the daughter, Paul is forced back into his old ways. Voice-over flash-backs to earlier scenes in the movie and revolver clicking follow.

Age finally caught up with Charlie. I guess at seventy-two Bronson realized he couldn’t throw punches and trade blows anymore. He spends a lot of time sitting in a car, watching people. An inordinate amount of the film’s run time features Kersey running away from bullets and ducking behind things. The most physical action we get is Bronson’s stunt double diving off a building into a very conveniently place pile of garbage bags. At one point, he gets knocked to the floor by a single blow to the back of the head with a small log. He really was too old for this shit by this point. (Though it’s good to know that there was precedence for Sly and Arnie gunning people down well into their seventies. I wonder if Willis and Statham are damned to the same fate?) He does get a number of amusing, some of them so-bad-they’re-amusing, one-liners. There’s actually one kind-of cool gun sequence, I’ll give it that much.

The movie makes up for the lack of action by upping the absurdity to hilarious heights. Early on, an obese man working in Olivia’s sweatshops is run over by one of O’Shea’s goons. The guy goes flying through the air, smashing through a restaurant window in slow-motion. Since Kersey is obviously too damn old to be out there gunning down creeps on his own, he decides to outsmart the criminal element. He poisons a dude’s canoli, watching from a distance while the guy chokes to death. Stunt-forklifts are employed. In maybe the movie’s most notoriously dumb moment, Paul employs a booby-trapped remote-controlled soccer ball to blow one of the goons right the fuck up. Once the bullets finally start to fly, Kersey spends a lot of time standing right in front of machine gun fire while taking the shooters down with one-shots from a tiny revolver. (Wildey wasn’t available?) In the last act, the movie ramps up the gore by sending a guy through a crushing, processing, vice thingy and dipping another dude in an inexplicable acid pit. The movie bends to accommodate Bronson’s age. At one point, a goon literally just stands around while our geriatric hero wraps him in saran wrap. In addition to this, we get a number of hilarious Catholic funerals. The priest is dismayed when the mob pulls out their guns in the church.

The movie doesn’t pinch on the exploitation though, seemingly to make up for the lack of action. There’s a ton of casual female nudity, including naked models, semi-naked models, naked hookers, and naked mobster trophy wives. When O’Shea takes over Olivia’s modeling company, the “classy” outfits are replaced by see-through chain-mail bathing suits and g-strings. Just to nail home how sleazy this is, there’s a disco ball installed as well. The mobsters love it but, hilariously, the fashion critics are incredulous. There’s amazingly no rape in this movie. There’s even a strong female police officer. (Don’t worry, she dies pretty early on.) I’m still just going to assume that undistinguished schlock director Allan A. Goldstein probably has an issue or two with women anyway.

Michael Parks is the bad guy and plays it particularly hammy. His character is impotent, which frustrates him to no end. He delights in torturing people. (There’s actually a lot of torture in this movie. Go figure.) He throws Italian deserts at people, makes snide comments to reporters, and generally sweats it up to leathery heights. The movie does pad its cast out with a pretty impressive line-up of scumbag character actors.

The movie ends with Kersey walking away from another creep well-dead, telling the near-by cop that if he ever needs him again, to give him a call. Despite further Batman-ing the premise and obviously setting up a sequel, producers and the real world decided we really didn’t need “Death Wish 6” through “Death Wish 9.”

Watching this series in its entirety has really made me learn to appreciate Charles Bronson. In real life, by most accounts, he was a quietly intelligent, soft-spoken, laid-back guy. I think he probably would have been a pretty cool older uncle or something, you know? Maybe that’s just me. The DVD appears to be a straight VHS rip and has tracking lines all over it. Sort of perfect, maybe? Shame Paul Kersey didn’t get a proper send-off and Bronson was retired from a hip replacement just four years later. It was for the best, probably, but a certain part of me wishes (death wishes?) we could have gotten one more movie to wrap things up for good and send Paul Kersey on his way. (5/10)


I really had to reach for this one. You can’t really call character actors Robert Joy or Saul Rubinek “stars” and they were both nearly twenty years into their career by this point. Maybe Claire Rankin counts? This was her first role as Parks’ girlfriend and has gone on to a career of TV guest spots and bit parts in forgettable movies. Though that's pushing the definition of all the above phrases. Man, this franchise really did fizzle out at the end.


Sean Catlett said...

Funnily finished reading these just after listening to How Did This Get Made's podcast of Bad Ass, which they described as a more positive Death Wish (more positive means more liberal? I don't know). Haven't seen any of these but a couple sound interesting. Are you going to tack on Death Sentence just for shiggles?

Bonehead XL said...

You know, the thought had never even occured to me. I've seen "Death Sentence" and didn't like it very much. Maybe if I can find a copy of the original novel, a review could show up some day.

I know in the nineties, New Cannon made a movie called "Death Game" that supposedly used parts of the screen play for the unmade "Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante." I can't even find an IMDb listing for that one though.