Back by popular demand, Charles Bronson once more goes vigilante style on some street thugs that messed with the wrong man. Reuniting with director Michael Winner of the first two movies, which also marks the last time he comes near the franchise, the second sequel in the series following the street justice exploits of Paul Kersey goes for broke. Doubling the violence, doubling the number of hoodlums, and doubling the excessive mayhem along the way, 'Death Wish 3' takes the storyline back to Brooklyn, which has grown worse since Bronson last left. Visiting an old war buddy, Kersey discovers a community defenseless against a gang of punks, and audiences are left wondering if being close to him should come with a disclaimer: "Warning! Close contact can cause mortal harm."
Over the years, the third exploitative adventure of the vigilante killer's street-cleaning service has gained a special place in my heart. And it's not only due to nostalgia. It's purely out of the unintentional humor and absurdity of the plot, one of those "so bad, it's hilariously good" types. Don Jakoby wrote the script, the mind behind other entertainingly cheesy titles like 'The Philadelphia Experiment,' 'Lifeforce,' 'Arachnophobia' and a long-time favorite of badness 'Invaders from Mars.' Writing under the pseudonym Michael Edmonds, as if the franchise is somehow beneath him, the script has Kersey return to New York on a weak excuse and ends up being arrested, accused of killing his friend. Never mind the lack of a weapon or evidence, take him to the station and rough him up some.
Silly as it sounds and looks, and believe me it really does, it proves to be a necessity for setting up a major plot device. A hopelessly desperate police chief, Shriker (Ed Lauter), is asking — more like begging really — for Kersey's assistance in cleaning up the city's most dangerous neighborhood. It's both funny and bizarre to hear the chief explain that more can be accomplished as a private citizen. This is also when we're introduced to Kersey's new love interest, a public defender (Deborah Raffin) young enough to be his daughter. But as is the luck of our lone hero, anyone who tries to get close to him only gets burned in the end. Or badly injured like WWII vet Bennett (Martin Balsam). Or emotionally scarred in similar fashion as Kersey like Rodriguez (Joseph Gonzalez). By part three in this series, it's a wonder our gun-happy hero even bothers making friends.
But back to the police station sequence with Shriker where the filmmakers take this time as an opportunity for viewers to be reacquainted with Bronson's tough-as-a-board-to-the-face persona. By this point in the franchise, the events of the past are starting to take a toll on him — he's slightly less cheerful and smiley, but he still makes excellent company for a stuffed cabbage dinner. Bronson is also well over his sixties by this point, but don't let his age fool you. As seen as in the great fight sequence inside a holding cell, this senior citizen is quite agile and sprightly, ready to throw down at a moment's notice and packing a mean punch. It's absurdly funny, but still pretty badass seeing him so fearless of bigger men, which later becomes the inspiration for the community to fight back.
Things only keep getting better as the movie strolls along with a nice, swift pace. Then again, I have to admit that "better" largely depends on your point of view. But seeing it for the excessive silliness that it is, 'Death Wish 3' is quite fun. I love the exaggerated look and behavior of the punk gang with their leader Fraker (Gavan O'Herlihy) sporting the best haircut of them all. And I love that others in the neighborhood cheer Kersey on and join in on the fight. The film doesn't feel rushed as tensions between Bronson and the gang build to an inevitable face-off, a gun battle that quickly spirals into a wonderfully ridiculous riot involving a zip gun, a Browning M1919 machine gun, and a mail-ordered rocket launcher. It's basically an old-fashioned western shootout set in the modern era, making this third entry surprisingly entertaining and satisfying.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'Death Wish 3' 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.
Much like the first sequel, 'Death Wish 3' arrives with an impressive, better-than-expected 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, which has me thinking it might come from a new remaster. With a film-like layer of grain, contrast is comfortable bright and crisp, allowing for wonderful visibility of the entire projects. Fine object and textural details are very well-defined, from the furniture of people's apartments to the ragged dump of the gang's hideout. Facial complexions appear natural and revealing, especially during close-ups of Bronson's wrinkled mug or O'Herlihy's freckled face. Blacks are generally strong and true with plenty of good shadow detailing. Colors are bright and accurate, with reds and greens looking the most upbeat. Aside from several negligible spots of softness due to age, the third entry in the franchise looks great on Blu-ray.
The audio is also in a similar boat as its predecessor, sounding really great all things considered, but lacking a bit of life. For the most part, the DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is clean with good fidelity and presence in the soundstage. Background activity, like people clamoring in the streets or screams for help in the distance, are quite clear. Dialogue is intelligible throughout, and there are plenty of strong acoustical details to be heard. As before, dynamic range often feels limited, creating a mostly flat response. Although the music, explosions and gunfire all appear to come in at the same frequency level, I couldn't detect any distortion or serious clipping, so that's a plus. Low bass, however, is somewhat stale and lackluster, even for a design of this vintage. Still, the lossless mix is passable and gets the job done for a cult action favorite.
The only available feature is the movie's original theatrical preview in standard definition.
Making up for a bit of the fun and excitement missing in the first sequel, 'Death Wish 3' goes for broke when Bronson's vigilante hero returns home to find a gang of punks terrorizing a small community. Although largely exaggerated and overall silly, director Michael Winner, working from a script by Don Jakoby, gives us a surprisingly satisfying crime actioner that evolves into a great western-style shootout. The Blu-ray arrives with a great and generally pleasing audio and video presentation, but fails to pack a punch in the bonus department. Still, fans of the franchise should be happy and others may want to give it a look, just for fun.