Parting Shots

A stellar cast distinguishes, but fails to rescue, this comic variation on "Death Wish" from maverick Brit producer-director Michael Winner.

A stellar cast distinguishes, but fails to rescue, this comic variation on “Death Wish” from maverick Brit producer-director Michael Winner. The often-told story of a man who believes he only has a short time left to live and sets about fulfilling his wildest dreams is given a modest twist by having the protagonist turn into a revenge killer, with most of the famous names in the cast appearing in cameo roles as his victims. Centering on a bland performance from singer-actor Chris Rea, pic chugs along from scene to scene with few surprises and little momentum. It should post reasonable opening figures, especially in England because of the players involved, but word of mouth will be unenthusiastic.

Rea plays Harry, a wedding photographer whose life has been a series of disappointments. He was bullied at school, his best friend stole his ideas, his wife betrayed him and he lost all his money when he invested in a company owned by a shady entrepreneur. When his doctor tells him that X-rays indicate he has cancer and he has only six weeks left to live, he decides to get back at everyone who did him harm.

He buys a gun from friendly barmaid Fred (Joanna Lumley) and dispatches his bitchy ex-wife (Rigg) for starters. Next, he confronts the shady businessman (Bob Hoskins) and drowns him in his swimming pool. In this task he finds an unexpected ally in Hoskins’ personal assistant, Jill (Felicity Kendal) whose parents were fleeced by her late boss.

When he takes Jill out to a very fashionable restaurant, he’s so appalled by the snobbish service and pretentious, inedible food, and by the attitude of Renzo (Ben Kingsley), the eatery’s prima donna chef, that he kills him too. This sequence, the film’s most amusing, comes as no surprise to anyone who’s read Winner’s newspaper columns in which he’s complained bitterly about some of London’s more fashionable eating establishments.

And so it goes on with the police hot on Harry’s trail as he knocks off the bully who terrorized him at school and, finally, his old chum, amusingly played by an acerbic John Cleese.

And, to complicate matters further, Harry has hired an assassin (Oliver Reed) to murder him so that Jill can inherit his life insurance. There are absolutely no prizes for guessing the ultimate twists and turns in this very familiar tale.

Pic’s lack of originality wouldn’t have mattered if Winner had shown more directorial panache, but pic has a tired, enervated feel to it. Although the many fine actors give mildly amusing performances, their brief appearances crop up with such predictable regularity that they’re never able to create real characters, and remain simply actors doing funny turns.

Ousama Rawi’s photography has a bright, bland look, and Chris Rea’s musical contributions are, on the whole, more memorable than his thesping.

Parting Shots

  • Production: A Scimitar Films production. (International sales: Vine Intl., London.) Produced, directed by Michael Winner. Screenplay, Winner, Nick Mead.
  • Crew: Camera (Rank color), Ousama Rawi; editor, Arnold Crust; music, Les Reed, Chris Rea; production design, Crispian Sallis; sound, Ian Monroe; associate producer, Ron Purdie; casting, Noel Davis. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 1998. Running time: 98 MIN.
  • With: Harry Sterndale - Chris Rea Jill Saunders - Felicity Kendal Maurice Walpole - John Cleese Gerd Layton - Bob Hoskins Renzo Locatelli - Ben Kingsley Lisa - Diana Rigg Jamie - Oliver Reed Fred - Joanna Lumley Inspector Bass - Gareth Hunt John - Peter Davison Cleverley - Patrick Ryecart Dr. Joseph - Edward Hardwicke Detective Constable Ray - Nicholas Gecks