What’s better than watching Charles Bronson in Death Wish V: The Face of Death? Almost anything, and yet there’s something hypnotic about a movie this spent, this tired, this utterly bereft of any redeeming feature. A benchmark in cinematic awfulness, Death Wish V was the only one of the vigilante series that I hadn’t seen until last weekend, and watching it caused my body to revolt, causing me to spend two days in bed shivering, delirious, my sense of reality distorted and warped, begging for a dawn which wouldn’t come. Like Dr Jekyll, writing feverishly in his journal, I now write these words with furrowed countenance as a warning to the curious to make sure that other unwary mortals do not travel down this path.
Let’s back up a bit. Michael Winner’s Death Wish in 1974 was a game-changing hit, an urban revenge fantasy in which mild-mannered architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) fights back against the crime-wave that took his wife from him. It’s a nasty but effective film, but the retro-appeal is somewhat compromised by the protracted rape scene which the exploitative sequel Death Wish 2 unwisely doubles down on to become a reprehensible low in the franchise and cinema history as a whole. Things perk up in the farcical Death Wish 3, in which Kersey inspires a neighbourhood of game old-aged pensioners to use flame-throwers and rocket launchers to terrorise local thugs; filmed on location in an English primary-school playground, it’s genuinely funnier than most comedies. Death Wish 4; The Crackdown was anonymous rubbish, but Death Wish V effectively slammed the door of Paul Kersey’s adventures.
OK, so we know Kersey best can the hardest of criminals in NYC and LA, but how would he fare in the cut-throat world of high fashion? That’s the bizarrely wrong-headed concept of Death Wish V, in which Kersey’s romance of a fashion queen (Lesley Anne-Down) leads to her untimely death and sends Kersey out on a revenge mission that must by now feel as mundane as a trip to his local grocery. But surely, Bronson and a big gun must mean some kind of decent action fare? Well, not really; he favours other, less iconic methods of dishing out justice; a dish best served hot here, when he sneaks into a kitchen and poisons a mobster’s cannelloni. Or how about another goon, who Bronson tracks down and blows up using a remote control football? These scenes are as poorly executed as they are ridiculous, and must have left hardened veterans of the franchise exasperated.
Even veterans like the super Michael Parks are left stranded here; Death Wish V’s writer went on to create Face/Off and Tomb Raider, so you can draw your own conclusions. With Bronson phoning it in and looking every inch the 73 year old action star, you’ll feel older than Bronson by the time this lame adventure has trickled to a halt; it’s wall-to-wall remote-controlled balls from beginning to end.