Bruce Willis is about as big as star as Hollywood manufactures these days. Sure, he's been in a few dogs — who hasn't? — but let me reassure you that his new movie "Death Wish" is not one of them.
Of course, you wouldn't know that from the film's Rotten Tomatoes rating, a barometer millions of movie-goers use to decide whether to plunk down $30 for a ticket and some popcorn. The movie gets a 16% rating — and just 10% from top critics. There are 20 "top" reviews — 18 "rotten," just two "fresh."
And the critics don't just hate the movie, they haaaaaate it.
"It asks nothing, and offers only the blanket assertion that feelings of masculine inadequacy," an NPR critic wrote. "'The most important thing a man can do is protect his family, and I failed,' Willis declaims — can be obviated ballistically."
"It's very obvious that [director Eli] Roth doesn't really care about the film's political baggage - he just wants an excuse to have Bruce Willis shoot battery acid into a guy's sciatic nerve and watch the blood," wrote a critic at IndieWire.
"There's something distinctly odious about a storyteller exploiting both a city's tragic reality and a country's debate about firearms to make a film that thrives on violence," wrote a critic at something called Consequence of Sound.
The new movie, though, wasn't supposed to drop now. It was planned for a November 2017 release, but got held until today. No one could have known that right before its release, there would be a mass shooting — one in which police and mental health authorities utterly failed to protect young students gunned down in a Florida school. And no one could have known the country would once again rage in a battle over gun control and Second Amendment rights.
The story is a remake of the 1974 classic film starring Charles Bronson, and the story is nearly identical. Dr. Paul Kersey (Willis) is a surgeon who sees the carnage of violence raging in his city (the original featured New York City, but Chicago is now America's Killing Zone). One day his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are brutally attacked in their home. The police are ineffectual, so Kersey takes the law into his own hands and becomes a vigilante. Mayhem — and plenty of murder — ensues. See the trailer below.
But the critics see the film as a way to chime in on the divisive gun debate in the country — and jump in with both feet.
"Death Wish is an NRA member's wet dream, a perfect film for the America that only exists in the poisoned imagination of the pathetic would-be bully in the White House," wrote a critic at Den of Geek.
Wrote a critic at FilmDrunk: "Now is such a terrible time to release a movie about a white vigilante 'taking out the trash' that I expected it to justify its existence somehow. It never did. If anything it's *less* satirical than the original."
"This is a wish-fulfillment fantasy the NRA will celebrate — and that's what's truly disturbing," wrote a critic at Fresh Fiction.
But more mainstream reviewers bashed the movie too. One at Entertainment Weekly said: "It's the absolute wrong movie at the absolute wrong time."
"To criticize Death Wish for its indelicate timing would be to suggest that there might ever be an appropriate moment to see it," wrote a critic at the Los Angeles Times.
The Daily Beast (of course) sought to tie it all back to President Trump. "Like a Donald Trump speech on immigration, the unspoken threat against normal (white) American (white) families is articulated as practically inevitable. It’s less of a question and more of a statement: Bad people are here and bad things are coming. Will you just sit back and let this happen to you? Where is your weapon? The trailer stops just short of effectively selling a Trumpian fantasy, and instead exists in a confusing space that’s just plain not the world we live in."
And more: "Apparently you can make the movie today, but if you’re thinking that this still isn’t the right time for vigilante porn, you’re right. The horrible, chilling truth is that, as insensitive as it may seem to release this film at this moment, there never will be a 'good time' for Death Wish — not just because the politics of the movie are problematic at best but because, if we keep going the way we’re going, there will just be another tragedy around the time of the next release date.”
OK, you get the idea.
But with movies like this, you just have to turn to Christian Toto, a longtime conservative movie critic. His piece is wonderful — and headlined "ANNOY A LEFTIST, SEE WILLIS’ ‘DEATH WISH’ REMAKE (TWICE)."
"You won’t see a more subversive film all year than Eli Roth’s 'Death Wish,'" Toto writes at his site, Hollywood in Toto.
Roller coasters have nothing on director Eli Roth’s resume. Here, he delivers both the genre staples and a brisk sense of comic timing.
Joe Carnahan’s script pokes a stick at PC conventions in between darkly comic morsels. The cop on the killers’ trail (“Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris) bites into a gluten-free snack before grimacing in disgust. A character can be seen reading C.S. Lewis, while another name drops a tome by conservative icon Milton Friedman.
Paul even curses out a squeegee man interrupting his commute. We warned you “Death Wish” had a subversive streak.
Progressive film scribes pounced on the first “Death Wish” trailer. They slammed it as fascist, racist and worst. The film itself? Paul’s good friend at the hospital is black (an underused Mike Epps). The villains staring down his increasingly accurate gun barrel? They’re black, white and Latino.
One tense sequence finds Paul coming to the rescue of a young black woman who thanks the hooded hero for saving her life.
Roth and co. shrewdly arranged these pieces to avoid charges of racism. Oh, some will raise the issue all the same. Audiences will be too busy cheering Paul on to hear them. Or care.
HiT or Miss: “Death Wish” is more than just a crass remake. It’s a blistering reminder why some movie templates never grow old.
THIS is the movie you'll see if you go, not the one derided by the limousine liberals. And the fact that it's coming out now — right now! — should drive a different kind of conversation, one America is probably ready to have.