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Death Wish 3 1985 ***

Third sequels go off fast, like milk left out of the fridge, particularly if the second entry in the franchise is as vile as Death Wish 2. Presumably feeling that there was no more mileage in terms of gritty hatefulness, exploitation and misogyny, Winner goes off in a silly post-Rambo new direction with the third turgid chapter of the continuing adventures of taciturn vigilante Paul Kersey, played with minimal effort and no application whatsoever by Charles Bronson. Kersey is back in New York, and Winner opens his film with a typical lack of flair by showcasing the side of a bus that Kersey is travelling on through the opening credits. After a few decent location shots in Port Authority bus station, the action shifts to a strange post-apocalyptic landscape; for one reason or another, presumably cheapness, Winner elects to shoot his NYC drama in what looks like an old schoolyard in England, and the cognitive dissonance is mind-blowing in an Inception-type way. With three American cars and a couple of Victorian buildings, Winner and his team abjectly fail to conjure up the idea that we’re in NYC for a split second, and watching Bronson, Martin Balsam and Ed Lauter bumble around dull English street-corners gives Death Wish 3 the unprofessional air of an amateur/student film. Kersey arrives in NYC to spend time with a friend, but the attentions of various thugs including Bill and Ted’s not incredibly intimidating Alex Winter, set him on a Energiser-bunny rampage with one predictable take-away; ‘Blow the scum away.’ But rather than shocking the neighborhood, Kersey’s kill-fest delights various pensioners in the area, who are goey-eyed at his gift for constructing lethal man-traps and cheer from the windows as he mows down an army of thugs to create a kill-count that goes into double figures. Mourning widows break out ear-to-ear grins at the thought of impending violence, families share a smile like it’s Christmas Day when they hear of Kersey’s murderous sprees, while Jimmy Page contributes a raft of inappropriate music that sounds like a particularly jocular game-show theme. The mark of a truly terrible film is that, even on a third or fourth viewing, there are layers of awfulness to be discovered, and Death Wish 3 is a very rich text indeed.

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  1. Agree with you; didn’t learn until years later that some scenes that reminded me of London were actually shot in London. I liked Bronson and many of his films, and think his cardboardness and ‘lack of enthusiasm’ had something to do with his wife’s cancer battle (which she lost in 1990). Yeah, those 80s films–sweaty, muscled men; rapid fire guns…commandos and vigilantes and no action hero women that I can recall… Thanks!

    • I wonder how close to Jill Ireland’s cancer diagnosis this was; I pulled, but will publish soon, a review of Ireland and Bronson in the earlier Love and Bullets, where they have great chemistry. Thanks so much for the comment!

      • It had to be close to the first cancer scare because I still have an newspaper article that states James Coburn was going to step in and take over the lead role with Bronson taking to time out to look after Jill.

  2. If I recall Bronson was quite disappointed with the production and never worked with Winner again. Strangely enough it has become a cult favorite and anytime I see lists of death wish favorites in order it usually tops them or comes in second.
    I had always wished they had stuck to more of a character study in these films like the first one. But that’s not the Cannon way. Still a Bronson fan regardless and like his schtick even when I know the film isn’t really all that good. Must say I’m a fan of Balsam and Lauter so at least a decent cast around the mustached hero.

    • It’s a very odd film. The amount of incident is ridiculously ramped up compared to the first film. The production values are sensationally low, and my guess is all the actors were embarrassed by the result. And yet, it’s watchable, even non-Bronson fans will find something to amuse! Thanks for the comment!

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