Bruce Willis will top-line a remake of the urban crime thriller "Death Wish", to be directed by Eli Roth. The original film was a sensation in 1974 and helped elevate Charles Bronson to major stardom in his native America, after having found success in European productions. In that film, Bronson played Paul Kersey, a liberal New York businessman whose wife and daughter are brutally raped. His wife dies in the incident and his daughter ends up brain-dead. Enraged by the inability of the police to catch the culprits, Kersey gradually takes the law into his own hands,making himself an easy target and then killing those who intend to do him harm. Within weeks, his anonymous vigilante becomes a populist hero in a city in which the citizenry is fed up with the break down in law and order. The film, directed by Michael Winner, spawned some sequels, all of which were repellent and cartoonish at the same time, but the original movie still retains its power. Director William Friedkin once told this writer that the audience reaction to Bronson's on-screen killings was visceral and frightening as people cheered with every pull of the trigger.
The new version of "Death Wish" may find an audience, but we're willing to bet it doesn't. Chances are it will fall into the realm of other remakes designed simply to make a fast buck. For one thing, history is against the concept. America's urban areas are in far better condition than they were in 1974. Although high profile mass killings are on the rise, everyday crime is generally far lower than it was back in the Seventies. New York City has routinely posted crime rates that are as low as they were in the early 1960s. It's doubtful that the film will resonate with audiences in the same way that Winner's original version did. It was made during a period when emerging from certain New York subway lines with your wallet intact was considered reason to celebrate. That no longer is the case. Winner was trying as much to make a social statement as he was making a profit. He succeeded with both goals. However, the new "Death Wish" has the odds stacked against it. Charles Bronson was a leading man on the rise at the time of the first version, whereas Bruce Willis works is arguably over-exposed. He will apparently appear in your home movies if the pay check was large enough. He also hasn't had a major hit as the leading man in quite some time and it seems doubtful that this would be the vehicle to reverse that trend. He and Eli Roth deserve the benefit of a doubt, but I'm betting the studio will mostly be counting on profits from the video and Netflix rights.