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Junkfood Cinema: Death Wish 2

By  · Published on January 21st, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: shame is completely relative. In a world where only good movies get attention, one man decided to take the laws of taste into his own hands. Hi, I’m him. This is the movie column wherein I put a truly schlocky movie on trial only to see it get away with murder. As bad as these films may be, I will defend their greatness with a .44 caliber hand cannon. In an effort to exact vigilante justice against your physique, I will then pair the film with an unlawfully tasty snack food item.

Last weekend, as research for an article I was writing, I watched 20 Charles Bronson films over three days. This undertaking, dubbed Bronsothon, not only filled me with renewed vigor for the violent artistry of one Mr. Charles Buchinsky (alias Bronson), but also allowed for the instantaneous sprouting of a lush, full mustache. Some of these films I had seen before and others were first views but one thing that remained consistent throughout was my steadily increasing level of aggression. I found that where I would normally solve small disagreements by engaging in civil dialogue, I suddenly shot five people and blew up a parked car. The worst instances of misplaced aggression came during the Sunday night marathon of all the Death Wish sequels.

Today’s snack: Death Wish 2

What Makes It Bad?

If there is one lesson I learned during the course of the Death Wish sessions of Bronsothon, it’s that harboring any association with Paul Kersey was a surefire route to an early grave. In the first film, his wife is murdered and his daughter raped. She then goes completely catatonic and winds up committed. In this follow up, she is showing evidence of recovery and living a new life with her father in California. Things are looking up for everyone until, once again, Kersey’s home is invaded by street thugs who not only kidnap his daughter and provide her fresh new rape trauma, but also cause her death. And the film isn’t even merciful enough to grant her an easy death. Instead she crashes through a window and is impaled on the prongs of a wrought iron fence two stories below. Ouch! Now of course the death of his daughter serves as the catalyst for more of that delightful Bronson vigilante justice, so it’s to be expected. But Death Wish 2 drives home the dangers of Bronson fraternization by also having his housekeeper get gang raped and murdered. The only thing more dangerous than being on Bronson’s bad side is knowing him.

So, you remember that cop who was hot on Bronson’s trail in the first Death Wish? The one who eventually decided he appreciated what Bronson was doing too much to arrest him? The one who disposed of evidence to protect him and then advised him to leave New York to avoid prosecution?! So, in the sequel he shows up in L.A. the minute some lowlife gets gunned down and starts telling every cop who’ll listen about the identity of the New York vigilante and how he’s most likely the culprit. He then refuses to assist the LAPD in their pursuit of Paul Kersey stating that he, “doesn’t want to get involved.” Funny, that 3,000 mile trip from one coast to the other to betray Kersey at the drop of a hat paints a slightly different picture of your involvement. Apparently there were no phones in the early 80s so, like the messenger at the Battle of Marathon, this detective had to deliver the message personally before claiming he didn’t want to be involved. Although thank God airplanes had been invented because this guy looks like his heart would have exploded just outside of Brooklyn if he had attempted the trip on foot. He ends up switching his allegiance back to Kersey at the end of the movie so his initial betrayal is 100% illogical.

The cadre of villains in Death Wish 2 are, despite their readiness to rape and kill, pretty goofballish. Collectively they look like rejects from Oliver Twist, Back to the Future, and a Zubaz-infested Gold’s Gym circa…the year this film was made. One of the punks is played by a very young Laurence Fishburne and, let’s just say his murderous gang member lacks the macho veneer of some of his other characters; say like, Cowboy Curtis for example. The scene that solidifies these punks as anti-tough has to be the dance sequence. That’s right, I said a dance sequence in a melon farmin’ Death Wish movie. Fishburne, replete with pork pie hat and Geordi Laforge sunglasses, dances on the empty stage of a park at night with a pair of similarly rhythm-challenged cohorts. It’s not enough they look like they’re auditioning for a Weather Girls video, but the “hardcore” tune to which they are “rocking out” sounds like something off of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.” Seriously, if you watch nothing more of this film, watch this dance number. It’ll make you want to shoot them too.

Why I Love It!

It seems crass to revel in death and bloody violence, but then that’s never stopped me before and who am I to go against precedent? To quote the bard, Charles Bronson is killing everybody out here. Watching him ply his brutal vengeance is something truly magical and I defy you not to cheer each time he takes down a bad guy with extreme prejudice. The best kill in the film has to be the dispatching of Laurence Fishburne. Larry tries feebly to protect himself from the hell storm of Bronson’s vengeance by hiding behind a ghetto blaster, only to get ghetto blasted into the next plane of existence. I also enjoyed the scene wherein Bronson pretends to be a doctor to infiltrate a psych ward where one of his daughter’s murderers has avoided jail by pleading insanity. You may be under the misconception that shock treatment was banned in psychiatric hospitals by the 1980s, but Bronson proves it still offers some benefit.

Death Wish 2, despite having a slightly cheesier aesthetic, is actually far more satisfying than the original. We could argue the differences in quality all day, and nothing would provide more damning evidence against our coolness, but the fact is that Death Wish 2 offers a more streamlined, direct sense of justice than its predecessor. In the first film, Paul Kersey goes on a rampage after his wife and daughter are attacked but he never finds/punishes those directly responsible…not even young Jeff Goldblum (who plays one of the attackers). So while he seeks to rid his city of the criminal element from which the destroyers of his family were spawned, we never get that gratifying moment wherein he puts a bullet between Goldblum’s giant eyes. What’s funny is how often the original Death Wish is referred to as a revenge film when in fact he never technically gets revenge. Death Wish 2 seeks to rectify this oversight. He methodically tracks down and slaughters those directly to blame for his newest tragedy. By the end, you feel securely wrapped in the warm embrace of the Code of Hammurabi.

I dig the fact that Bronson transforms into a mass-murdering superhero in Death Wish 2. He keeps his vigilante persona hidden from his only remaining loved one, adorns a specific thug-killing costume, and even sets up a secret lair…in a mild-mannered dirtbag hotel. He might as well have added a cape and a mustache mobile to his repertoire because honestly it was the only thing preventing Paul Kersey from calling himself Shoot You in the Face Man! He’s the hero the criminals deserve, but not the one they ever want to meet in a dark alley.

Junkfood Pairing: Ice Cream Cone

Not convinced that trouble follows Charles Bronson like herpes follows Tara Reid? This whole ordeal befalls Paul Kersey’s family because he makes one fatal mistake…buying an ice cream cone. While waiting in line for this deliciously cold treat, Paul runs afoul of a street gang who seem to feel the appropriate response for a man chasing after them to get his own wallet back is to rape and murder nearly everyone he knows. This, more than any other entry, proves that junkfood is hazardous to your health. Though if you aren’t pally wally with Charles Bronson, typically the worst consequence of ice cream is a headache, not rape.

Reading more Junkfood Cinema is hazardous to your health

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.