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Death Wish 3 (1985)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DEATH WISH 3 (1985)

Starring: Charles Bronson, Ed Lauter, Gavan O'Herlihy, Deborah Raffin, Martin Balsam

Written By: Don Jakoby Directed By: Michael Winner

The Short Version

This movie was made for people who can’t understand Roman numerals; approach accordingly.

Never mind things like “character” and “plot;” Death Wish 3 is all about the body count.

If that’s all you want, the movie delivers, and delivers big.

If you want anything else… move on.

Death Wish 3 is a lowest common denominator midnight action flick; expect to either love it or hate it.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Mindless midnight movie snack, anyone?

Pairs Well With...


When all that really matters is quantity…

“I hope you like chicken.  It’s the only thing I know how to make.”

“Chicken’s good.  I like chicken.”

Once upon a time, Charles Bronson played the defining role of his career in Death Wish, a dark, serious character study and social commentary about urban crime and vigilantism.

Flash forward to the 1980s.  Cannon Films picked up the franchise rights, and just two sequels in, they pretty much stopped trying.  As the number “3” in Death Wish 3 suggests, this is that second sequel in.  (It’s “3” and not “III,” by the way, because someone took a survey and determined that almost half of American moviegoers couldn’t read Roman numerals.  Yike.)  Moral questions and complex human drama are no longer factors in any relevant equations; this script and all of its characters are very clear about their opinions from the word “go,” and the only real point to anything that occurs here is to pile up the body count (which climbs to 83)… reportedly to the chagrin of Mr. Bronson himself.

Welcome to the lowest common denominator.

If things like “depth” and “plot” just get in the way of your fun while watching cheesy midnight movies, then Death Wish 3 is for you; indeed, by that measure, it can be considered one of the most entertaining flicks in the series.  If you want your action entertainment to includes brains that don’t get splattered all over a tenement wall, however… well…

The excuse – you can still call it the premise, if you like – plays out like so.  Architect and not-so-secret vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson, Messenger of Death) heads back to his old hometown of New York City to visit an old Korean War buddy.  Unfortunately, he arrives just in time to learn that his buddy is dead: killed by the creeps who’ve taken over the neighborhood.  Kersey also finds himself locked up by a cop, Shriker (Ed Lauter, Raw Deal), who knows about his vigilante sideline: a cop who’s also tired of both the creeps and his own department’s inability to put them away.  So Shriker makes Kersey a proposition: Kersey gets to avoid being put away for the rest of his life if he agrees to go back to his dead buddy’s neighborhood and clean things up.  It’s an offer Kersey can’t refuse; not that he wants to, of course.

It’s time to hand down some lead justice…

And boy, does Kersey ever hand it down – in a merciless fashion that makes Dirty Harry Callahan look like a bleeding heart pinko.  (He even uses a handgun that deliberately one-ups Harry’s famous .44: a .475 Wildey Magnum that fires cartridges normally used to bring down big game in Africa.  Never heard of it?  Don’t worry; Kersey delivers a detailed infomercial for the thing, which has in fact been shown to boost the manufacturer’s sales every time Death Wish 3 airs on cable.  But anyway.)  Remember that guy from the first Death Wish who had to run home and vomit after shooting his first street thug?  No one involved with this movie does.  This version of Kersey directly refers to the neighborhood’s creeps as being “like roaches” that can only be properly dealt with by killing them all… and his patron cop agrees,  as does everyone else, for that matter.  Locals cheer every time another creep gets shot – especially the area’s most notorious purse snatcher (“I’m glad he shot him!  He stole my pocketbook three weeks ago!”) – and even the nice, civilized Public Defender (Deborah Raffin, Scanners II: The New Order) admits that she’s okay with it.  Does the screenplay lay its viewpoint on with a trowel?  Oh, just a lot, and director Michael Winner added so much of his own violent fuel to the fire that it reportedly caused a falling out with Charles Bronson, who, despite a long history of successful collaborations with Winner, would never work with the director again.

I’d wonder how Bronson felt about the tie-in video game produced by Atari, but I’m pretty sure I can guess.

But for those late nights when you just don’t want to think about the cheese you’re watching and just want to see stuff blow up and bad guys go down… there’s no denying that Death Wish 3 has a shamelessly satisfying appeal.  Because these bad guys are bad guys, and the reign of terror they’ve got their neighborhood under is nothing less than a horror movie interpretation of a hostile military occupation that makes Compton look like family parkland.  (Never mind that this makes absolutely no economic sense for the creeps’ organization, which is huge and has no sustainable income if they squeeze their neighbors too hard… but there I go thinking again.)  And that massive gun makes a very satisfying “bang” when it picks off punks from fifty yards out.  And vintage World War II heavy machine guns being fired out from a tenement window are kind of awesome.  And an anti-tank round fired at close range… come on; how can that not be a blast?

Did I mention that Kersey gets most of this stuff by mail order?

So yeah; on a purely visceral level, Death Wish 3 does indeed work. (If it helps, don't think of Bronson as playing Paul Kersey anymore.  Think of him as the entire A-Team rolled into one guy.)

On any other level beyond the visceral, though, there’s nothing here.  As already suggested, the alleged story is just an excuse to pile up a body count.  There’s no progression; it ends because “it’s time.”  The characters are flat.  The love interest angle is a useless waste.  There’s not even any cool factor to be had for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fans who spot Marina Sirtis.  (She plays a woman in a Death Wish movie; you guess what happens to her character.)  By just about any normal critical standard one cares to name (save for picking on the actors, who do the best they can with what they’re given), Death Wish 3 is a bust.

But damn, it certainly is an explosive bust.  And a guilty pleasure.

Bottom line, if all you’re looking for is a violent midnight movie that doesn’t ask you to think after you press “play,” Death Wish 3 is shamelessly entertaining.  But if you’re looking for anything deeper than that, just move on.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014

With a nod to my old friend and fellow Bronson fan Kenner, who noticed the A-Team.

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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