Almost ten years after the first 'Death Wish' ignited a nation-wide debate on the depiction of violence, director Michael Winner ('The Mechanic,' 'The Sentinel') reunited with star Charles Bronson for a sequel. Having no relation whatsoever to the novels of Brian Garfield which inspired the first movie, the script by David Engelbach ('Over the Top') moves Bronson's vigilante hero, Paul Kersey, from a crime-ridden New York City to the gang-infested streets of Los Angeles. Although a bit wonky and choppy, more in the editing department than in the writing, the movie is an inferior version of the former, but Winner manages a serviceable follow-up to the controversial 1974 crime-drama classic.
As always, Bronson brings his signature soft-spoken but lethal tough-guy persona, which eventually made him into a bona fide film star in America. As a war veteran and former liberal-minded citizen, he proves to be a versatile actor, portraying a loving father with a deep, dark secret. With that hard, stoic glower of his, as if angrily staring at the sun even at night, he's incredibly convincing in the role of a man with a corrupted sense of morality, patiently waiting and plotting to impart some street justice on some no-good punks. He's a completely different person, full of smiles and compassion, when performing his day job as a respectable architect and tender boyfriend to Geri (played by his real-life wife Jill Ireland).
This adds a much-needed layer of dimensionality and gravity, however small it may be, to a plot that essentially retools the same idea as its predecessor. Made to suffer through another attack on his daughter, a still traumatized catatonic Carol (Robin Sherwood), Kersey swiftly goes into vigilante mode through a funny but all-too brief montage sequence. Only, instead of taking his frustrations with a violent world out on every hoodlum and ruffian that crosses his path, he hunts the vicious gang members directly responsible for his daughter's death. One of those thugs happens to be a very young Laurence Fishburne, dressed like a pimp with a cool pair of shades. But as before, he returns their callousness in kind, while uttering such riveting comebacks as the one to a criminal after he has professed his belief in Jesus: "Well, you're gonna meet him."
As the action builds with one shootout after another, the LAPD is called into action and somehow surmise the deaths of drug-dealing gangbangers are the work of a vigilante. Desperate for help, Vincent Gardenia is asked to reprise his role as Detective Frank Ochoa, which he does with the same grumpily cheerful personality he displayed in the first movie. Ochoa's intentions are a bit fuzzy and oddly come out of nowhere. It's a puzzlingly flimsy plot element that only leads to a big action sequence ending with a car explosion that seems hilariously forced. I wonder if the producers felt the movie required at least one explosion to justify its meager budget.
Being a mediocre imitation of its predecessor, 'Death Wish II' is of course nowhere near the quality of the first movie. Such is the curse of the action sequel. At the behest of Bronson, Winner returns nonetheless and delivers a decently amusing follow-up, though the script is full of shoddy silliness. What keeps the film afloat, however, is the rather entertaining action and a surprisingly satisfying conclusion that requires the hero to use some imagination along with the vengeance that drives his obsession. Bronson, too, takes a commanding presence on the screen as a man pushed to a single-minded edge. Taken for what it is, the sequel which generated a franchise makes for an easy watch on a lazy weekend afternoon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'Death Wish II' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc bypasses the usual main menu screen and goes straight into the movie. Menu options are still available via the pop-up menu bar.
'Death Wish II' takes out its grievances on Blu-ray with a surprisingly good AVC-encoded transfer. Possibly taken from a fresh remaster of original negatives, the picture is highly-detailed with excellent and fairly consistent resolution. Beneath a thin, film-like layer of grain, every wrinkle of Bronson's face is visible and every building in the background is distinct. The 1.85:1 frame comes with crisp, well-balanced contrast, making the movie really standout without causing any negative effects. Blacks are deep and accurate with strong shadow delineation. Colors are bold and vibrant, especially primaries during exterior scenes. The film still shows a bit of its age, but it's nothing that detracts from the overall first-rate quality of this high-def presentation.
The movie also arrives with a nicely cleaned-up DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack, staying true to the original design but still feeling somewhat restricted. The mid-range is not very extensive and frequencies generally seem limited. The soundstage as a whole, however, provides plenty of clarity with a strong acoustical presence and a satisfying image. There's not much going on in the low-end, but bass is audible, particularly in the music, which is adequate and appropriate to the original recording. Vocals are well-prioritized in the center, allowing listeners to hear all of Bronson's tough-guy dialogue. Aside from a few negligible grumbles, this lossless mix is very good.
The only available feature is the movie's original theatrical preview in standard definition.
Though failing to come close in quality to its predecessor, 'Death Wish II' still manages to entertain with several good bits of action. Director Michael Winner returns with this follow-up of the vigilante hero that made Charles Bronson into a star in America. Inferior to the first movie, but amusing nevertheless for a lazy weekend afternoon. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent picture quality and very good audio, but the supplement package offers nothing to enjoy afterwards, worth a look for fans of the franchise.