‘Death Sentence’ accurate title for awful movie

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By: Sam Watermeier <swatermeier@hilite.org>

Death Sentence” is a return to the genre that exploded with 1972’s “Death Wish,” which starred Charles Bronson as a man who kills literally every thug on the street to avenge his family’s murder. In fact, “Death Sentence” is based on a book by the author of Death Wish, Brian Garfield. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as fun or entertaining as its predecessors. This film is ridiculously grim. Its attempts at humor fail miserably due to bad comedic timing and a poorly written screenplay. Also, when humor does appear during the “comic relief time,” it is always in bad taste. These are just a few of the things that make “Death Sentence” one of the worst films of the year.

The film stars Kevin Bacon as a father whose son is brutally murdered as part of a man’s “initiation killing” for a gang. While testifying against the man, Bacon’s character, Nick Hume, decides to take the law into his own hands and denies the man’s involvement. He later kills the man to avenge his son’s death. After killing the man, Nick has strange bursts of happiness that are unsettling when they are supposed to be funny. For example, there is one scene when a business partner is asking Nick how he is dealing with the loss of his son. Nick smiles and says, “I’m compensating for my losses. When compensating, you do things that surprise you.” The audience knows he is talking about murdering his son’s killer and this is supposed to be a “wink” toward the audience, a form of dramatic irony in that his business partner does not know what he is talking about. However, the result is not humorous or clever, but inappropriate. It’s all in the delivery.

The performances in this film are everything but subtle. The acting is soap opera quality, which isn’t quality at all. Kelly Preston, who has been an actress for decades appearing in Academy Award-winning films like “Jerry Maguire,” acts like an amateur here as Nick’s wife. When Bacon tries to act like a cool, smooth vigilante, it is so embarrassing, you will cringe. Then again, the screenplay does not help these actors either. It is unbalanced. For example, in one moment someone will be crying and in deep mourning and in the next moment, Bacon will have a shaved head and leather jacket, running around shooting criminals with a shotgun. This is also a problem of editing. There are so many things wrong with this movie that it is hard to keep track of who is responsible.
Anyone who is expecting a fun, action movie or a throwback to the 1970s Bronson films will be severely disappointed. This is a “feel bad” movie. The film also tries too hard to earn its R rating with the gratuitous violence. The violence is sometimes so ridiculously over-the-top that it is funny. This is the only thing that is funny in this film.

“Death Sentence” may be a case of talent canceling itself out. This happened in the recent adaptation of “All the King’s Men,” which starred Academy Award-winning actors Sean Penn and Anthony Hopkins, and was written and directed by Steve Zaillian, the screenwriter of “Schindler’s List.” “Death Sentence” has talent involved. Bacon was effective in “Apollo 13” and “The River Wild.” Preston was great in “Jerry Maguire.” The director, James Wan, showed potential with his debut feature “Saw,” the film that started the “torture” genre, but he ultimately missed the mark. With “Death Sentence,” he misses again. Everyone does.

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