Written by El Puerquito Magnifico
When the film Death Sentence was released in 2007, I was intrigued. It looked like an update (or rip-off?) of the 1974 film Death Wish with Kevin Bacon in the lead role rather than Charles Bronson. Okay, that’s fine – a lot of movies look like rip-offs of Death Wish, because a lot of movies are rip-offs of Death Wish. That in and of itself does not necessarily make a film bad. I’ve got no beef with a B-grade action movie, and I’ve got no beef with Kevin Bacon, so this movie seemed like it might be fun. I never did end up seeing it in the theaters, but when I had the chance to review the DVD, I jumped. I’d finally find out whether or not it had any merit.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. The novel that Death Sentence is based on was written by Brian Garfield, and it’s the follow up to another hit he’d written titled Death Wish, the same Death Wish that was made into a movie starring Charles Bronson. So Death Sentence is a rip-off of Death Wish that is actually based on the sequel to Death Wish. Weird and interesting, but as it turns out, the movie left me with a deathwish about halfway through.
The film opens with a montage of home video footage of the Hume family. Father, mother, and two sons. A family so disgustingly happy, you are actually hoping for their deaths by the time the opening montage is finished. Brutal, gruesome deaths…well, maybe that’s just me and I’m just sick. At any rate, the older son is clearly the golden child, handsome and bright and excellent at hockey, while the younger son just falls of his bike a lot.
While stopped at a gas station on the way home from a hockey game, Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) witnesses his son’s murder at the hands of a violent gang of thugs. Now, you can tell these guys mean business, because they all have tribal tattoos on their necks and/or faces. Real bad mamma-jammas. It’s not even a mugging or a robbery; it’s an initiation ritual for the youngest member of the group. In the ensuing scuffle, Nick unmasks the murderer and subsequently identifies him in a lineup a day or two later.
Realizing that the law will not grant him the justice he deserves, Nick refuses to testify against his son’s murderer, deciding to enact his own brand of vengeance. One cliché leads to another, and Nick ends up killing the guy, which sets off a chain reaction of revenge between the surviving members of the gang, including the slain criminal’s older brother and father, and Nick’s own family. Lots of bullets, lots of knifings, lots of bullet dodging. These guys are terrible shots.
The film plays a lot on the whole “protect your family” theme, and the idea that violence only begets more violence. An eye for an eye, and all that. It’s actually a pretty neat concept, and I can imagine that on paper this seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it’s just a very run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up. Like I said earlier, I’ve got no beef with a solid B-movie, and I don’t mind a cliché or seven thrown in for good measure. Hell, Lone Wolf McQuade is one of my favorite movies, but this flick, despite a few good action scenes, just doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and it’s barely worth watching.
What it does bring to the table is bad acting and homage after homage to Taxi Driver and the Saw films, which happened to be directed by the same guy that directed this film (the Saw films, not Taxi Driver). There’s a scene after the older brother’s death in which the family, who at this point are apparently not able to speak above a whisper, all lie in bed crying and listening to some crappy Sarah McLachlan song. Yeah, seriously. It doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings; it attempts to forcibly remove them, but in the end, you just end up laughing at it.
The DVD includes both the theatrical release and an unrated cut of the film. My review is based on the unrated version. Who knows, maybe the tamed down theatrical cut tamed down some of the lameness as well? Might’ve been worth checking out. The extras featured on this disc are: “Making A Scene,” a mini-documentary originally shown on the Fox Movie Channel, detailing how director James Wan shot a particular action sequence. Since the action sequences are the best parts of the film, this was actually worth watching and far more interesting than the movie. An episode of the Fox Movie Channel’s “Life After Film School” and a bunch of webisodes are also included. The former being something of a “poor man’s Inside The Actor’s Studio” hosted by three film students, and the latter being a bunch of little behind-the-scenes vignettes which appeared on the movie’s website. Again, both proved to be far more interesting than the film itself.
In the end, if you’re lying around the house on a Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do and Death Sentence comes on the tube, go ahead and watch it. I’ve definitely seen worse movies in my lifetime, and the action sequences in this one are pretty decent. Just be sure to get up and make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when the action stops and people start to talk.