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Friday, August 31, 2007

Death Sentence

My perfect husband and I saw Death Sentence yesterday at the Essex Cinemas and when it was over we both just say there for a few minutes going “Whoa!” in that Joey Lawrence kind of way. This is one of those great “critics-are-gonna-hate-it” movies that audiences will absolutely love because it feeds the soul in a way that snooty film queens who live in high rises in Chicago (big wave to Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper!) can’t understand because they haven’t actually mingled amongst the “little people” in over twenty years, and by “little people” I mean middle class or poorer, not rich dwarves like Peter Dinklage (Underdog). These film snobs think waiting ten minutes for Scarlett Johansson to finish with her make-up before she grants them an interview is the epitome of human suffering; they don’t know the daily frustrations others travail that can lead them to the point of breaking, like what happens to Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence. God knows I do.

My hubby asked me as we sat in the empty theater if I supported the death sentence. Supported it? If I had my way I’d be the one carrying it out on a daily basis. I think the death penalty is far under-used. If it was up to me, I’d eliminate the court system entirely and just grant myself the sole responsibility to off those offenders I see fit to go. Think of it as “thinning the herd” for a better society. For instance, do we need to have those annoying dimwits around who selfishly pop open their cell phones in darkened theaters and start text messaging their friends in the middle of a movie with no regard to the rest of the audience that is being blinded and distracted by the halogen glow from the row down front? I don’t think so. I’d be more than happy to administer a quick and quiet lethal injection right there on the spot as a public service to one and all. The same with the incessant talkers in the movies who think we paid to listen to their sub-fascinating dialogue instead of what the actors are saying on-screen, or those fidgety people who kick the back of the seat in front of them even when you’ve asked them politely to stop, and then there’s anybody dumb enough to bring a baby or a child under 13 or so into a slice-and-dice horror movie. A baby, for crikey sake!? The parents ought to be slaughtered on the spot and the kid placed with Brangelina or some other ready-to-adopt celeb couple before the end credits.

Don’t worry. My vigilante justice wouldn’t just end in theaters. I’d help out in other areas as well. Those fat-ass lazybones who are two parking spots from the cart corral at the supermarket but are
too slug-like to push it that incredible distance and instead leave it in the middle of the empty space next to where they are pulling out? Congratulate me on making speed bumps out them and bringing recycling to a whole new level. How about store cashiers who ring up your fifteen separate items and then stare at you blankly and ask the jaw-droppingly obvious question “Would you like a bag?” followed by a huge sigh as if the effort to provide one AND put the goods in it is a Herculean effort beyond their actual job duties. Oh you know you want to see her gone. There are just so many candidates. Almost everyone who ever posts to craigslist.org’s rants & raves. That’s not ‘thinning the herd’ so much as ‘pest removal.’ Anyway, there is a good reason I do not have the power over life and death because if I did there would be empty streets, empty red states, and probably no one left in France.

One can only wonder how far Kevin Bacon might have gone if
Death Sentence ran longer, but in the one hour and forty minutes allotted he does an excellent job at doing his part for vigilantism everywhere.

Death Sentence, Nick Hume (that would be Mr. Bacon; The Air I Breathe) is an executive actuary with an insurance company, calculating the risk of almost everything under the sun when he is not at home basking in the glow of his happy, perfect family ~ wife Helen (Kelly Preston; Broken Bridges), and terrific sons, 17-year-old Brendan; Stuart Lafferty in his big screen debut) and 15-year-old Lucas (Jordan Garrett; Saving Shiloh).

Brendan is a major hockey phenomenon and on the way home from a game one evening with his Dad, Brendan is killed in what at first appears to be a robbery attempt, but is soon exposed as an initiation ritual for a gang that requires its members to kill as a rite of admission.

Nick managed to see the face of Brendan’s killer but the district attorney makes it clear that Hume’s testimony will only put the murderer, Joe Darley (Matt O’Leary; Live Free or Die Hard) behind bars for a year or two as part of a plea deal for Darley to turn state’ evidence on other gang-related cases. With that news, Nick refuses to cooperate so Joe goes free and Nick goes into hyper-drive.

It should probably be noted for those who think this plot sounds a tad bit familiar that
Death Sentence is based on the only sequel written by author Brian Garfield to his hit book Death Wish, which was turned into the film of the same name back in 1974. Garfield despised the four movie sequels that followed that film 33 years ago, and it took him these three decades before he felt confident enough to take another chance on his work being transferred to film again. It might seem a surprising choice, then, that Garfield would put his confidence in the hands of director James Wan (Saw; Dead Silence), but they make a good fit. Wan understands the grit and threat of unchecked urban violence. He also knows when enough gore is just enough, something most people don’t realize when they think of Saw, but on re-examination of that film you’ll find it to be true. There’s much more implied squeamishness than actual fluids spilled, but I digress as usual.

Once Darley is set free Nick finds himself obsessed with stalking the young man who stole his son from him. He leaves his grief-stricken
wife and his younger son behind, unaware of Lucas’ acute pain, swollen with a sense that his parents would have preferred it was him who had died. Instead, with every hour, Nick’s hate seems to grow and distract him ~ at work, at home, even with the warnings he gets from police Detective Wallis (Aisha Tyler; Balls of Fury). At first she urges him to cooperate with their investigation and prosecution of Darley, and then cautions him to stay away from the guy. Obviously, he does neither, and when he is in so deep he has no one else to turn to for help except her, she has nothing left to offer him except to remind him that she had already warned him about starting a “war” he couldn’t stop.

And quite a war it is. In some ways
Death Sentence quickly turns into a standard revenge caper as each of the members of the Darley gang discovers they are becoming one degree closer to Kevin Bacon as the movie progresses, but there are some shocking twists that belie the obvious one-two-three formulaic feeling you might begin to feel developing. There was one scene that struck me completely unprepared for and another so outrageous I was sure it was a nightmare Nick was having, then, after what seemed an eternity of a holding long-shot, I even believed the movie was over in what had to be the most unexpected and unsatisfying climaxes this side of sex with Rosie O’Donnell.

But, wow! Wan jerks the audience back in for a third act that is gut-wrenching (and spilling), and tenser than Senator Craig in a men’s room with security cameras. The action is fast, the body count high, and Bacon undergoes a transformation that is physically hard to describe. Whatever vestiges of Nick Hume, family man, who once existed, are washed away in a baptism of blood and what is born in his place is not all that different than the prey he is trying to kill.

Death Sentence is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It is much more gruesome than this week’s other opening, Halloween, but it is also much more grounded in something most people can identify with. Unless you are a snooty film critic, of course.

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