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Death Wish V: The Face of Death
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by Jack Sommersby

"Bronson Fans Will Be Reasonably Pleased"
3 stars

This was the last of the series and makes for an acceptable send-off.

A fair giveaway that a New York City-set production was in fact filmed in Canada is that the streets never have enough cars and the sidewalks not enough pedestrians. I'd say seven to eight times out of ten I can correctly call this, and it was especially easy with Death Wish V: The Face of Death in that both the streets and sidewalks are so spartan you'd think an unknown plague had wiped out most of the residents of the Big Apple. (A low budget also contributes to this, of course.) And with a movie with a bare-bones plot and lethargic execution the viewer has more in the way of downtime to notice things like this, and this latest in the Charles Bronson action series gives us more than ample opportunity. Still, it's not really all that bad - moronic, yes; contextually contemptible, yes; entertaining, kinda. The original starred Bronson as a Manhattan architect whose wife and daughter were brutalized by a vicious street gang, with his spouse dead and child catatonic; frustrated with an inept justice system, Bronson's Paul Kersey, who served in the Korean War, armed himself with an unregistered pistol and began taunting and luring street punks on subways and alleys into moving in on him so he could gun them down, thus making himself judge, jury and executioner. The city's crime rate starting falling as a result, and Kersey, cannily escaping before the cops could arrive, was soon nicknamed The Vigilante. A clinched-fist protest against a justice system that seemed to favor criminals more than their victims, that 1973 box-office smash was to New York what Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry series was to San Francisco, with both Harry Callahan and Paul Kersey emerging as iconic screen heroes audiences couldn't help but root for. Naturally, sequels have abounded, and though I disliked Death Wish II I found Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown trashily enjoyable stuff, with this latest decent enough to warrant a slight recommendation. Even at the age of 74 Bronson still manages to be an effortlessly commanding presence - he instills Kersey with an Everyman appeal and decency that wins us over; he may be coasting but you don't really mind because Bronson was born to do this kind of thing. By this time Kersey has been relocated by the federal Witness Protection Program, given a new name, and is now an architecture professor, but he finds himself going back to his old ways when his fashion-designer girlfriend Olivia (an underused Lesley Anne Down) is facially disfigured by henchmen of her ex-husband, Tommy O'Shea (a truly menacing Michael Parks), a wealthy crime boss who's been using Olivia's business to launder his dirty money - Olivia has agreed to work with the chief district attorney, and when Tommy gets wind of it he strikes back. From here the movie follows the standard revenge-story template, with Kersey adeptly knocking off Tommy's goons with not just gunfire but cyanide-laced canolies, a remote-controlled explosives-packed soccer ball, a warehouse wrapping machine, and, especially, a tub full of boiling liquid plastic. In a humorous touch, one of the bad guys is known as "Freddy Flakes" on the streets because of his incurable dandruff.) While Death Wish V: The Face of Death is no great shakes and eons inferior to Bronson's career-best, 1984's knockout The Evil That Men Do, it's passable and gets the job done more often that not; mind you, Alan A. Goldstein has neither written nor directed with any distinction, but the overall result is good-enough looking and gets us from A to B to C without any real hiccups. In no way is this a commendable piece of celluloid, but, by and large, it'll do.

Has been paired with "Death Wish IV: The Crackdown" in a welcome double-feature Blu-Ray package.

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originally posted: 09/23/20 07:45:54
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  14-Jan-1994 (R)



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