Saturday, April 3, 2010

Film Review: DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH (1994, Allan A. Goldstein)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Charles Bronson, Lesley-Ann Down (MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK), Michael Parks (THE HITMAN, THE RETURN OF JOSEY WALES 'Jean Renault' on TWIN PEAKS, 'Earl McGraw' in KILL BILL, PLANET TERROR, et al.), Saul Rubinek (UNFORGIVEN, TRUE ROMANCE), Miguel Sandoval (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, JURASSIC PARK, DO THE RIGHT THING), Kenneth Welsh ('Windom Earle' on TWIN PEAKS), Robert Joy (ATLANTIC CITY, LAND OF THE DEAD).
Tag-line: "No judge. No jury. No appeals. No deals."
Best one-liner: "Guns make you nervous?" –"Guns have their uses. Idiots with guns make me nervous."

Well, I've been sick this week, have fallen behind in my reviews, and now it looks like 'Batshit Craziness Week' may just turn into 'Batshit Craziness Fortnight,' so brace yourselves.

Charlie's back and he's pushin' 80; we got the Golan, lost the Globus– DEATH WISH is ready to take on the 90's. Well, you're probably wondering, how does the franchise hold up in the post-Cannon breakup era? The answer: excellently. Within, literally, the first ten seconds, we have three flaming hairdressers, a ton of models, some asscrack, and a touch of nipple. Golan, you dog!

Yup, we're at a fashion show. Well, why wouldn't we be at a fashion show?- this is a DEATH WISH movie, after all. Bronson's back in the Big Apple, and he's got yet another doomed ladyfriend, this time Lesley-Anne Down of MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK fame.

Munchie never pulled any shit like this.

Michael Parks is her rabid ex and the main villain of the piece.

He's so goddamned scary, I was hiding behind my couch for half the movie. Looking a bit like Clu Gulager, doing gleefully racist impersonations, and eagerly slicing up a fat man's guts with some kind of sewing machine, Parks plays your typical mobster/high fashion magnate. He and his cronies are laundering money, so they have to toss a bunch of mannequins and clothes into a vat of acid to make up for it or something?

I'm not sure that makes any sense, but I have complete faith in Golan, so I'm sure it's my fault for being confused. Then there's Chekhov's rule about vats of acid in Bronson movies: if there's a vat of acid in Act 1, Bronson will push some d-bag into it by Act 3. Anyway, at first you'll think that the fashion industry setting was chosen so that Golan could showcase his kickass flamboyance (see also: THE APPLE, SALSA), but as it turns out, I think it was chosen so that people could be tortured by the associated industrial machinery.

But I digress. Bronson's in the witness protection program now, working as a professor. This is brilliantly conveyed when Saul Rubinek says something like 'Ah, yes, remember when I put you in the witness protection program? How's that working out? Are you still a professor?' Rubinek, naturally, is playing himself, but he does it well enough that he nearly challenges Parks for 'Best Actor in DEATH WISH 5.' But there are actually some pretty solid performances here- Kenneth Welsh

(Windom Earle from TWIN PEAKS) as the beleaguered top cop, Miguel Sandoval as a possibly nefarious buddy, and Robert Joy as a killer dude in drag who's kinda like the poor man's John Glover/Klaus Kinski. (And it must be mentioned that by no means is that an insult- even the poor man's Glover/Kinski is better than 90% of actors working today.) Joy's main character trait is that- I shit you not- he suffers from a dandruff problem (his name is "Freddy Flakes"). In one mind-boggling sequence, Mr. Flakes disfigures Bronson's gal as Michael Parks distracts Bronson by blowing him kisses.

Again, though Bronson probably is incapable of understanding the concept of same-sex attraction, the chemistry is palpable. Parks even has difficulty tearing his eyes away from him as his rent gal pines for a smooch. Regardless, Joy brings his all- and then some- to the scene.

Not sure how a wig can have dandruff, but I'm goin' with it.

Flakes relaxing at home.

Described as a "very lethal guy," Bronson dispatches Freddy with extreme prejudice and a remote control soccer ball bomb, deliciously intoning "I'm gonna take care of your dan-druff problem for you!" This is full of those phrases that probably originated in the screenwriter's head as 'one-liners,' but once they roll off of Bronson's tongue, they achieve "It's MY CAR!" status. Like "I don't need anything...but YOU need a BATH!" or "You got a PROBLEM?":

We've got probably the most brutal hit and run in film history (which must be seen to be believed), the 'dummies flung from buildings' quotient filled (Bronson himself even gets to take a kickass leap!),

and ridiculous Italian stereotypes (cannolis, opera, spaghetts, and a woman named 'Mama' converge in a matter of seconds). Bronson gets to torture a dude with saran wrap:

and it all ends on an EXTERMINATOR 2-inspired freeze frame.

Bravo, gentlemen. A fitting swansong for a hero who inspired us, astonished us, and delighted us every time gunned down purse-snatchers, professed his love for chicken, or stuck his boot up the ass of some cheap punk who totally didn't see it coming.

He touched our hearts, he blew our minds, and then he blew the bad guys away- and I never got tired of seein' him do it.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Ah, if I only could enunciate my words as cool as Michael Parks. The man should be doing Shakespeare but DEATH WISH is good too in its own way. Of course, Tarantino has brought him back into the mainstream after Lynch did it with TWIN PEAKS years before.

Sean Gill said...

While so many only know him as 'Sheriff McGraw,' at least he's getting the kind of late-in-the-game pseudo-mainstream exposure he deserves.

But the man's career is as ludicrous as it is amazing- Adam in THE BIBLE, RFK in THE PRIVATE FILES OF J EDGAR HOOVER, crossing paths with Chuck Norris, Bronson, and Umberto Lenzi alike... Still, I'd love to see him doing some Shakespeare/art films/etc. (Well, actually the Shakespeare might just be frightening, but I'd totally be on board with that.)

J.D. said...

Parks is the kinda guy who could make reading the phone book enthralling so I'm on board with whatever he wants to do next, but the crazier the better!

Dan said...


I was so glad when Chicki bit the dust,mainly because his name is said about a million times and is just extremely annoying.
Oh and the newspaper headline 'Chicki Paconi killed by canoli' was hi-larious (and misspelled).

Sean Gill said...


Yeah, it's pretty fantastic. And I love how the headline is 'Canoli Caper,' which, as you say, is misspelled, but also- Bronson didn't steal anything! Perhaps they meant it in the sense that "it was a playful cannoli murder" e.g., Bronson's enunciation of "You got a PROBLEM?!"

And as a side note, I think when Bronson exits the restaurant after the cannoli murder, I'm pretty sure you can see Menahem Golan's reflection in the glass door.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people love to slam the "Death Wish" sequels, citing the absurdity of them (I always wonder if they'd actually ever seen the original, because it was pretty ridiculous as well). I think that this series is much loved privately but often sneered at publicly. I love all five of them, always have and always will, and I'm not worried that this confession will damage my credibility. It's take it or leave it, really.


The final sentence in your review was just about the greatest and most honest tribute to Bronson's Paul Kersey and these five movies that's ever been said. Bravo.

Sean Gill said...


Said confession does not damage your credibility; clearly it only elevates it. Sing your praises of the DEATH WISH series from the highest rooftops!

Thank you for the kind words, and if I have made a worthy tribute to Bronson, then I guess I can die happy. (Hopefully not via a cannoli or an exploding soccer ball bomb.)