Dir: James Wan US. 2007. 106 mins.
Death Sentence updates the scenario and ethos of seventies shocker Death Wish in a stylishly violent revenge thriller with 'Splat Pack' director James Wan behind the camera and baby boomer star Kevin Bacon in front. It's an unlikely pairing that makes for an uneven film with some grating tonal shifts. But it's also a pairing that might, by appealing across several audience demographics, pay off for producer Hyde Park Entertainment, especially in ancillary and some international markets.
Twentieth Century Fox has given the film a wide North American Labor Day holiday weekend release (with an R rating).
Domestic theatrical competition - from two genre movies getting wider releases and from a couple of comparable upcoming films - will be stiff, however, so DVD might end up being a stronger market Stateside.
Independent distributors that have licensed the film from Hyde Park for international territories will have more releasing options, and those in markets with a taste for slickly staged, bloody action could register good returns, theatrically and on video.
The script, credited to first time writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, is supposedly based on the 1975 Death Sentence novel that Brian Garfield wrote as a sequel to his original Death Wish book.
But the new film has completely different characters to the sequel novel and its plot seems closer to those of the first book and original movie.
Bacon's Nick Hume is an insurance company middle manager who enjoys his middle-class suburban life with wife Helen (Kelly Preston) and teenage sons Brendan and Lucas. When Brendan is brutally murdered during a chance encounter with a group of urban gangbangers and the legal system fails to punish the killer, the grieving Nick turns vigilante.
But after gaining retribution for his son's death, Nick finds himself at war with the killer's family and fellow gang members.
The new film certainly won't have the same lightning rod effect as Death Wish, which touched on several hot button issues of the mid-seventies.
But its early scenes of domestic happiness should give older audiences something to relate to as Nick's transformation begins. And its seventies feel - enhanced by hand held camera work and a desaturated look - and Hong Kong-flavoured action should further broaden its appeal.
Wan - who since directing the first Saw film has executive produced its two sequels and directed the under-performing Dead Silence - handles the dramatic scenes reasonably well, even if he seems unsure how to then transition into the action sequences.
He really comes into his own, though, with the handful of action set pieces. The best is a foot chase set in a multi-storey car park that was apparently shot in a single take and culminates in a crowd-pleasing stunt.
The uneasy contrast between drama and action becomes more pronounced as the story goes on and the violence becomes more cartoonish.
By the time Nick, with his half-shaved head and personal arsenal, heads off for his big showdown with the last of the gang members, the film is getting close to genre parody.
Bacon, who has recently specialised in independent dramas such as The Woodsman, makes the central role considerably more interesting than it might have been and acquits himself pretty well as a gun-wielding tough guy.
The supporting players - including Garrett Hedlund (Troy) as the lead gangbanger and Aisha Tyler (Friends) as a detective - are less notable, though John Goodman has some fun in the Tarantino-esque role of a short-sighted drug and gun dealer.
Hyde Park Entertainment
Twentieth Century Fox
Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Based on the novel by
Director of photography
John R Leonetti
Michael N Knue