Our site’s 5-star rating system can accommodate films that are half-good. Death Wish II is one such film. Of course, that’s an either/or proposition. The film’s half bad too, but nowhere near terrible enough to warrant Ebert’s zero star take.
That being said, this sequel is moored to a classic, damn-near impossible to judge as standalone art given its predecessor.
Death Wish the First ends with Paul Kersey laying low and decamping to Chicago after his 9-kill performance in The Five Boroughs. However, that urban environment there too closely matches that of New York City.
Ergo, we get “he worked in Chicago awhile…” as the lazy, cynical and tepid exposition for Kersey’s developer business (and Kersey) ending up in Los Angeles.
He is apparently the unluckiest man in the world. In the first film, his wife is murdered and his daughter sexually assaulted and deathly traumatized. Now, Kersey’s fresh start in La-La Land is not too fresh at all. On a lovely boardwalk stroll, he’s infantilizing his inexplicably still-mute daughter with ice cream (who is far too old to be electively mute), when all of a sudden, a gang of muggers grab his wallet.
With his address, they’re able to terrorize Kersey where he lives. His housekeeper is brutally attacked and left for dead and his daughter is impaled on a fence escaping the clutches of the violent gang. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?)
It’s Detective Ochoa from the NYPD (and the first film) whose appearance really sinks this one. Still determined to bring the “goddamn vigilante” to justice, he snorts into his handkerchief while tailing Kersey.
And what we’re left with is what Ebert (rightly) called “underplotted.”
Asking none of the moral or ethical questions of that first film though, this one accepts out and out consequentialism. And what scraps remain include a few decent action sequences (including Laurence Fishburne getting blasted right through his ghetto blaster) and some good sleazy atmosphere.
Kersey asks at one point, “You believe in Jesus? You’re gonna need him.”
But nobody is redeemed here.
**1/2 (out of 5)
[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF DEATH WISH 3 here]