The controversial vigilante film “Death Wish” (1974) was set in New York City. Charles Bronson starred as the mild-mannered architect Paul Kersey, who becomes a revenge-thirsty gunman after thugs break into his home, murder his wife and savagely attack their daughter.
Now comes “Death Wish” 2018, set in Chicago and starring Bruce Willis as the mild-mannered surgeon Paul Kersey, who becomes a revenge-thirsty gunman after thugs break into his home, murder his wife and savagely attack their daughter.
With acknowledgment movies often take geographical and historical and cultural liberties, there are quite a few differences between “Death Wish” Chicago and Chicago-Chicago.
Although director Eli Roth does an admirable job of peppering in authentic Chicago-shot scenes, much of “Death Wish” was filmed in Montreal, the “Chicago of Quebec.”
Said nobody, ever.
Very early in the film, a Chicago police unit is racing through the Loop. We hear a radio call saying the car is on “Wacker Avenue.”
Drive. Wacker Drive.
When a violent crime is committed in a home in Evanston, two Chicago homicide detectives are assigned to the case. I’m thinking the Evanston police might have something to say about that.
I did enjoy radio veteran Mancow’s performance as Mancow. Seriously. His energy pops right off the screen. He sounds just like Mancow would sound if there were a mysterious, hooded figure dubbed “The Grim Reaper” exacting “justice” on the streets of Chicago.
And former Chicago anchors Bob Sirott and Robin Robinson play current Chicago news anchors. Hey, that’s a not a bad idea!
Director Roth does a nice job of introducing us to the Kerseys: Dr. Paul; his wonderful and lovely wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue); and their bright, sweet, 17-year-old daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone).
We like them. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them.
But their idyllic world is shattered when a home invasion goes sideways, leaving Lucy dead and Jordan in a coma. (It’s one of those Movie Comas. For the most part, it looks like the kid is taking a nap, and she’ll spring to life any minute and start texting her friends.)
Dean Norris is Detective Raines and Kimberly Elise is his partner, Detective Jackson. (Two terrific actors, with a comfortable chemistry together.) The good detectives are doing their best to find the perps, but they have an overwhelming case load, and there’s not much evidence in this particular tragedy.
An increasingly frustrated and angry Paul takes matters into his own hands. His ultimate goal is to find and punish the thugs who attacked his family, but in the meantime, any criminal will do.
So he teaches himself to handle and shoot a gun, with the help of some YouTube videos.
In rapid succession, Paul blows away a couple of carjackers and then a drug dealer — and thanks to viral videos, memes, TV news reports and heated talk radio debate (in addition to Mancow’s show, there’s much discussion on the Sirius XM radio station Shade 45), “The Grim Reaper,” as he’s been tabbed, becomes a hot topic. Is he hero or villain?
It’s remarkable how quickly Paul the life-saving surgeon takes to his secret life as Paul the life-taking vigilante. Within weeks, Paul is clearing enjoying himself as he systematically and sadistically tortures a bad guy before snuffing him out.
No doubt some will be startled and perhaps offended by a film in which patrons of a nightclub race for the exits as gunfire erupts, and a scene where the owner of a gun shop cheerfully tells Paul how easy it is to get clearance to buy weapons. Not to mention the numerous instances in which first-degree murder is played for applause and even laughter.
But that’s just it. Even with the social commentary, “Death Wish” isn’t trying to be some intense, gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines docudrama. (Other than a couple of asides about “a white man in a hoodie” committing the crimes, race is hardly mentioned.) A number of gruesome scenes are staged like something out of one of those “Final Destination” movies, with a bowling ball, a dart, a wrench and other conveniently handy items used as weapons of singular destruction. It’s essentially revenge porn.
Again and again, “Death Wish” feels anything but real.
One more moment of mild (ahem) implausibility: At one point, a number of individuals are killed in a home, their bullet-riddled bodies spaced throughout the place. There’s blood everywhere.
Moments later, police arrive on the scene. You’d think even the most hardened of them would be horrified — and they’d be extremely careful not to do anything to tamper with the evidence.
Not this crew. They’re casual as all get-out. The blood hasn’t dried yet, and they’ve got boxes of pizza and six-packs of soft drinks on the kitchen counter. Have a slice!
But hey. When you’re a Chicago cop and your job takes you from the South Side to “Wacker Avenue” to Evanston, you gotta keep up your strength.
MGM presents a film directed by Eli Roth and written by Joe Carnahan, based on a novel by Brian Garfield. Rated R (for strong bloody violence, and language throughout). Running time: 107 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.