Death Sentence

2007, Movie, R, 110 mins

Review

DEATH SENTENCE
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Loosely based on the novel Brian Garfield described as "penance" for the bloodthirsty amorality of Michael Winner's movie version of his Death Wish, this reductive revenge thriller preaches at the same time it panders to base payback fantasies.

Insurance adjuster Nicholas Hume (Kevin Bacon) has something close to a perfect life: a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Helen (Kelly Preston), two fine sons — athlete Brendan (Stuart Lafferty), a high-school senior, and his sensitive younger brother Lucas (Jordan Garrett) — and a beautiful home in a serene suburban neighborhood. But violence and chaos are no farther than the gas station where Nick stops while driving Brendan back from a hockey match in "the city." As Nick looks on in horror, four gangbangers storm the convenience shop with sawed-off shotguns. In a moment, Brendan is bleeding to death on the floor, his throat cut with a machete. Nick fingers Joe Darley (Matt O'Leary), the runty spawn of malevolent thug Bones Darley (John Goodman) and brother of psycho gang-leader Billy (Garrett Hedlund), as the killer, but when he learns Joe stands to do no more than five years, he recants his identification and takes justice into his own hands. Nick kills Joe, earning the wrath of Billy and his interracial posse, who come after Helen and Lucas. Meanwhile, Detective Jessica Wallis (Aisha Tyler) knows what Nick is up to but apparently lacks the evidence for an arrest, so she compensates by lecturing him sanctimoniously about the futility of eye-for-an-eye retribution. The tit-for-tat bloodletting escalates, and Nick is eventually forced to commit to all-out war.

Directed by SAW creator James Wan and written by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, who took considerable liberties with the source material, the film is preposterous on so many counts that it's hard to enumerate them, beginning with the character of Nick, a compulsively cautious pencil pusher whose garage inexplicably bristles with scythes, machetes and hunting knives. Bacon gives his considerable all to making Nick's transition from law-abiding family man to vigilante convincing, but it's a lost cause. The police are too dumb to look for an escaped prisoner in his own home, the lavishly tattooed thugs can't shoot straight at point-blank range and the bloody climax lifts so outrageously from TAXI DRIVER (1976) that someone ought to be ashamed. Wan is a better director than Winner, but DEATH does not become him. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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