It’s been 20 years since pacifist-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey blasted his way through the first “Death Wish” melodrama, and “Death Wish V: The Face of Death” finds both the character and the franchise looking mighty tired. Charles Bronson returns once again as the impassive avenger, but even that won’t be enough to keep pic in theaters long. Vid and pay TV prospects are marginally brighter.
By this point in his career, Bronson — still fit and fearsome at 72 — could play Kersey in his sleep. Indeed, there are one or two scenes here where he appears to be doing just that. And who can blame him? Canadian filmmaker Allan A. Goldstein (“The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick”) may be new to the “Death Wish” series, but he’s provided little that’s new in the way of revivifying plot innovations.
Once again, Bronson is trying to live a reasonably nonviolent life, having promised D.A. Saul Rubinek and police detective Kenneth Walsh that he’s hung up his guns for good. Once again, he has found the love of a good woman — in this case, fashion designer Lesley-Anne Down — and hopes to make a permanent commitment.
And, once again, Bronson’s lady love meets a sudden and violent end shortly after he makes his tender feelings known to her.
The only difference this time is, instead of muggers, street gangs or drug dealers, the villains are slightly more upscale creeps. Down is killed by the goons of her ex-husband (Michael Parks), a smooth-talking mobster who’s bent on taking over the Manhattan garment district. The police, as usual, can’t prove anything. Worse, they can do nothing when the mobster reclaims his late ex-wife’s young daughter.
That’s when Bronson gets the old revolver out of the wall safe.
As “Death Wish” pix go, this one — set in New York but filmed mostly in Toronto — has a surprisingly small body count. Action fans likely will be disappointed to see Bronson kill only six bad guys. Granted, he tortures information out of a seventh by wrapping up the guy with clinging plastic. But somebody else delivers the coup de grace.
Slackly paced and unexciting, “Death Wish V” comes off as a flat-footed, by-the-numbers programmer that, judging from what’s onscreen, failed to spark much enthusiasm among the people who made it. Except for Parks, who livens up his scenes with some juicy hamminess, supporting players simply go through the motions and pick up their paychecks. Tech credits are adequate.
Maybe they should have called it “Death Warmed Over: The Bottom of the Barrel” instead.