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Watch out, street thugs, it's payback time again

In a revival of the vigilante-justice genre, a grief-stricken dad wreaks vengeance in 'Death Sentence.'

August 31, 2007|Jan Stuart | Newsday

In "Death Sentence," Kevin Bacon descends to the throne left vacant by the late Charles Bronson, that of a law-abiding worker bee turned one-man killing machine bent on avenging his family.

Based on Brian Garfield's novel of the same name (itself a sequel to the book that began it all, "Death Wish"), this latest exercise in do-it-yourself justice-mongering features Bacon as Nick Hume, a risk-assessment company vice president whose No. 1 son is wantonly slaughtered in a gas station holdup.

When it becomes clear that his killer will walk away with a three-year sentence, at most, Hume refuses to testify and goes after the guy himself, inciting a gang war that targets his wife (Kelly Preston) and surviving son (Jordan Garrett). The chief detective who investigated his son's murder (Aisha Tyler) is on to Hume, but is spectacularly inefficient in nipping his self-styled vigilantism in the bud.

This allows for some giddily absurd face-offs between Bacon's pin-striped dad and the grunge-clad gang in a parking garage, at home and in a loft space that begs to be a runway setting for Fashion Week. When he is not tangoing with the venomous killers or the pouting detective, Hume is psyching out a hulking body repair shop goon named Bones Darley (John Goodman). Goodman is given an added measure of grotesquerie by being shot from below, one of several arty design choices employed by director James Wan, who favors grainy high-contrast photography and chilly backlighting. While there is the requisite amount of shorn limbs and splashing blood one might expect from the director of "Saw," Wan should be saluted for putting the coup de grĂ¢ce off-screen.

In the press notes, the director ponders the film's "Shake- spearean" qualities, while a producer loftily compares it to Greek tragedy. One seriously wonders how much time either of them has spent slumming at classical theater: Exactly which Sophocles or Shakespeare dramas do they have in mind? To give credit where it is due, the fetishizing of gun violence, the cynical distrust of the jury system and the prioritizing of one's own family over the welfare of others are hallmarks that American popular culture should rightfully be able to claim for itself.

"Death Sentence." MPAA rating: R for strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. In general release.

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