Saturday, May 14, 2005

Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)


Semi-retired vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) arrives in New York City to visit his old friend Charley, who has been having trouble with a neighborhood gang. Unfortunately, Paul walks into Charley's apartment to find the gang goons have beaten the poor guy into a pile of stroganoff. Even more unfortunately, the cops show up and arrest Paul for the murder. Down at the station the police chief recognizes Paul, probably having seen his exploits in previous Death Wish movies. Since the chief hasn't been having much luck dealing with the gang he decides to recruit Paul to help clean up the neighborhood. On his way out of the police station Paul encounters Kathryn, the attractive Public Defender and his soon-to-be love interest.

Paul moves into Charley's apartment and makes friends with the various elderly folks and ethnic stereotypes who live in the building. They tell him about the aforementioned gang that's been terrorizing them. The gang's leader is a bright young fellow named Fraker, who sports a reverse-mohawk and face paint. Paul helps the old folks set up some Wile E. Coyote-style traps to keep the creeps at bay and he sends for his "friend" Wildey (which turns out to be the largest handgun in the Western hemisphere.) He starts a slow but steady campaign of blowing holes in bad guys.

Kathryn tracks Paul down and inexplicably asks him on a date. They end up going out on a second date as well, but then Fraker and his pals knock her unconscious, put her in Paul's car, and push the car down a hill into oncoming traffic. Evidently Paul keeps dynamite in his trunk because the car instantly explodes and Kathryn is killed. This depresses Paul and he decides to ratchet up the revenge killing a few notches.

Fraker calls in reinforcements from the Thug Recruitment Center and soon dozens of mix-n-match hoodlums, bikers, punks, and lowlifes of every size, shape, and description are pouring into the neighborhood. With enthusiastic support from the fed-up local citizens, Paul sparks off an impressive pogrom against the gang. Scores of colorful extras are sent flying off rooftops and fire escapes to their deaths. Buildings explode. Paul blasts Fraker through a wall with a rocket launcher. The bad guys give up and run away, and with nobody left to kill, Paul wanders off to seek financing for another sequel.


I probably enjoyed Death Wish 3 a little more than I should have. It's got everything I love in an 80's action movie - a ridiculous plot, paper-thin characters, plenty of mindless violence, and a very American brand of optimism. It's no surprise it was produced by the same studio that brought us the Delta Force. Charles Bronson makes a very endearing vigilante. He seldom has more than one line of dialogue per scene, and it's obviously a minimal effort for him to play the Paul Kersey character yet again. I can't explain it, but even when Bronson is clearly phoning his acting in, it works. He seems very comfortable in his b-movie environment.

His adversary in this film is one of the least threatening action-movie villains I can think of. Obviously, the reverse-mohawk and the face paint don't help matters, but Fraker just doesn't come across as particularly scary. Mostly he just sits around in the decaying bunker where his gang is headquartered and makes vague, threatening phone calls. His facial expression just before Paul reduces him to a charred husk is a must-see.

There are some entertaining cameos in Death Wish 3. Martin Balsam plays a tough old guy who lives in Paul's building. He goes after the gang with a 50-caliber machine gun from World War II, but it jams up and he gets tossed over a railing. Alex Winter (who went on to play Bill to Keanu Reeves' Ted in the Bill and Ted's movies) makes what I think is his screen debut as one of the thugs. The strangest cameo is probably that of Marina Sirtis (Counsellor Troi from Star Trek: the Next Generation). She plays the female half of a couple from Paul's building. The hospital calls her husband to tell him that she's been attacked by the gang and has a broken arm. Paul and the husband rush to the hospital only to be told by a grim-looking doctor, "Mrs. Rodriguez has... expired." Huh? Is a broken arm frequently a fatal injury? Why not at least give her the dignity of a stab wound or something - how humiliating is it to die of a broken arm?

The riot at the end of the film is hilarious. The producers were too cheap to spring for squibs or even fake blood for the extras so when they get shot they just sort of flail around and fall down. A surprising number of them climb up onto rooftops only to be shot off like tin cans in a carnival game. The New York citizens display an alarming brutality when they take on the gang members, using guns, clubs, and even push-brooms to send the criminals to meet their maker.

One thing I don't quite understand Kathryn's approach to dating. She sees a guy about twice her age being let out of jail. Knowing nothing about him except that he was recently charged with murder, she goes to great lengths to track him down in the extremely dangerous neighborhood where he lives, and asks him to dinner. At her house. Is this wise? Does she often hang around the front of the police station scanning the newly released prisoners for possible dating prospects? Is this what women used to have to do before

While on her first date with Paul, Kathryn makes an impassioned speech which pretty much sums up the message of Death Wish 3. She says "Dammit, people have got to start to fight back - and HARD!" If we can extrapolate a little bit from the content of the rest of the film, the best way to "fight back" against crime is not through increased funding for police or reforming the judicial system. The best way is to grab a gun the size of a kosher salami and pop a cap in the ass of anyone vaguely resembling a criminal. I'm not sure it's the most practical tactic but you can't argue with the results in this movie.

Final Analysis

For those who like their action movies stupid, violent, and undemanding, Death Wish 3 is an excellent choice. It's a veritable buffet of bad-movie cliches. The dialogue is cheezy enough to be highly quotable and the violence is so cartoonish, it's funny. Highly recommended for fans of Charles Bronson and/or the reverse-mohawk.


At 8:59 PM, Blogger millie said...

The best part of it all, is your review. Can't wait for what's next. Millie


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