Bad Movies To Love III: Death Wish III (1985)

What’s more entertaining than Charles Bronson killing people?

Charles Bronson killing LOTS of people!

Death Wish 3 comes smack in the middle of Charles Bronson’s urban vigilante action pentad, precisely at the moment when any sense of reality attempted by the first two movies in the series is totally abandoned. 1974’s Death Wish depicted comfortably liberal architect Paul Kersey’s (Bronson) gradual and often guilt-ridden evolution to vigilante urban avenger after his wife and daughter are attacked by muggers (led by the unlikely Jeff Goldblum of all people). By the time we get to Death Wish 3, any sort of character development is thrown aside in favor of Bronson becoming an indestructible action hero who travels from city to city looking for street criminal scumbos to blast apart in a variety of cinematically entertaining ways.

This time, Bronson fights a gang of urban thugs who look like a cross between wanna-be breakdancers and rejects from the casting call for The Road Warrior. There’s really no point in describing the plot in great detail, since it makes little sense and doesn’t really need to. The story kicks off with cockroach-crushin’ police chief Shriker (the great Ed Lauter) locking Charlie up after IDing him as the legendary vigilante Paul Kersey & leaving him to the mercy of the perps du jour in the violent psycho bin. This gives Bronson the opportunity to get into some bone-crushin’ fights with the crazies, culminating in him horsecollaring a big scary dude who looks like Curly Howard on steroids and ramming his bowling ball-sized fat bald head through the bars of the cell. Ouchie!

After this, Bronson makes an enemy of the main villain of the film, coincidentally the leader of the gang who offed his old friend, and Shriker sets him loose upon the gang’s turf to clean things up while his cops look the other way. From then on, the film is basically violent eye candy with villainous street nasties’ scumbaggery exhibited and then said scumbags positioned for Charlie’s target practice, culminating with a face to face showdown between Bronson, Shriker & the lead baddie, where Chuck gets to blow him away with a handy mail-order rocket launcher that must have been the one thing Wile E. Coyote forgot to order from the Acme warehouse before Bronson snapped it up. The main villain Fraker is played by Gavin O’Herlihy, who you may or may not recognize as Richie Cunningham’s long-lost and eventually forgotten older brother Chuck. See what happens when you don’t have Howard Cunningham’s fatherly wisdom or the coolness of the Fonz to look after you? You become a reverse-mohawked street thug complete with Rothko-esque war-paint (that is if Rothko is a nickname for one of the “slow kids” in a First Grade finger painting class), and your destiny is to be in Charles Bronson’s crosshairs. If only it had happened to Chachi.

But I digress.

As much as I don’t place Death Wish 3 into the same league with Road House in terms of sheer shit-as-entertainment value, it has a lot to offer.

We have Bronson killing people with assorted guns, but also with bizarre boobie-traps that embed teeth and shred feet. We have gun-wielding old folks inspired by Bronson shooting back and catching on fire. We have Martin Balsam taking out his old World War 2 machine gun and going after the muggers, only to fall down the stairs (you’d think he would have learned to avoid stairs back in Psycho.) We have Bronson shooting purse snatchers in the back and getting applause from people at their windows, in sort of a reverse-bizarro-universe tribute to Kitty Genovese.

We have a God-awful music score by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin that sounds like a cross between John Carpenter’s keyboard-on-the-cheap music for Halloween and porn synth slowed down and played backwards.

We have a nonsensical romantic subplot where too-hot-to-be-a-public-defender Deborah Raffin spots Charlie as a possible murderer in lockup and thinks “Gee, there’s a guy old enough to be my father accused of murder who won’t tell me anything about his past!” so she takes a taxi up to terror town to randomly look for him & ask him out on a date. She finds him, they have dinner, she confesses her disgust at her job and they bed down for some Chuck lovin’ before Mohawk McMayhem gets back at Bronson later that night by bonking her on the head and rolling her and her car in neutral down a hill into traffic, knowing full well that in a movie like this, a 20 mile per hour fender bender will assuredly become the equivalent of Dresden when it blows up real good into a flaming inferno of efficient cinematic girlfriend disposal.

We have Fraker, pre-Bronson-battle, getting on the phone and saying “I need more reinforcements” before we smash cut to a biker battalion riding into town whirling chains into people’s heads and throwing grenades through shop windows that, like Deborah Raffin, also blow up real good. Think about this for a moment – who the hell is he calling? Rent a riot? Bikers ‘r’ us? Leftover extras from the set of The Born Losers next door on the lot? And did he put it on account or promise to pay them in cash afterwards?

We have the repeated unsubtle motif of gun-as-wang from director Michael Winner, whether it’s the series of bizarre angles and quick cuts during Shriker’s interrogation of Kersey when one shot places a trophy handgun where it appears to come out of Shriker’s fly, or later on when Bronson repeatedly fires his machine gun at crotch level into a veritable supermarket of disposable mugger meat.

Ah, Michael Winner! He used to be a half-decent director, and made earlier films with Bronson such as Chato’s Land or The Mechanic that are far, far superior to this one. And he was also capable of astounding levels of shititude with material like The Sentinel, where hottie model Cristina Raines needs to leave her fashion model fastlane life and guard the gates of hell in order to save her soul. If you’ve ever wanted to see Burgess Meredith play the demonic ghost of a child molester who can summon up armies of intestine eating deformed midget goblins at will, then this is definitely the movie for you! After all, if he had done that for Rocky, Clubber Lang would have never had a chance! He’s a wreckin’ machine!

But I digress.

Looks like Winner has rediscovered his British sense of humor, in this piece about how he’s no longer a big fat slob. Bon appetit!

Action and idiotic violence aside, my only reason for knocking Death Wish 3 down a few notches from Everest-level heights of anti-genius remains its lack of moronic dialogue, an element that my earlier choices of bad films to love have in abundance. Except for the deeply moving moment where one of the thug army mourning one of their fallen comrades lets loose with “They shot the Giggler, man!” there really isn’t much else to chew on here. But I’d still recommend this one for anyone in the mood for good old mindless violence, despite a depressing “we need to show some tits” rape scene – where the victim is Marina Sirtis, otherwise known as Counsellor Troi – No dialogue from her throughout the film, by the way, since she probably hadn’t lost her British accent and is supposed to be playing Puerto Rican from what I can tell – in any case, it spoils the surreal quality of the rest of the film’s violence and undermines our ability to kick back and mindlessly enjoy the entire thing as a comic book-gone-wild depiction of New York as if David Dinkins were mayor-for-life.

Stupid beyond belief! Thumbs up!

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