boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe
Movie Review

An angry Bacon lifts 'Death Sentence'

About a half-hour into "Death Sentence," superdad Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) rummages through his suburban garage desperately searching for a tool, a knife, weed clippers, anything that he can use to kill the young gang member who brutally murdered his all-star, hockey-playing son at a gas station just days before.

One is inspired to yell, "Don't do it!," because as we all know, starting a war with a gang when you are a suburban superdad (or anyone, for that matter) is a very, very bad idea.

But this is the premise of "Death Sentence," the new film by James Wan, the young director responsible for the "Saw" trio of horror movies - that poor Mr. Hume must lose almost everything, including his hair, before he realizes there's no such thing as an eye for an eye.

The movie, like so many revenge films before it (including the mother of them all, "I Spit on Your Grave"), is divided into two violent parts of almost equal length. During part one, Hume is established as a mild-mannered businessman, who seeks to smite his enemies after his son is randomly killed by a gang member. During part two, Hume gruesomely gets his re venge, one young thug at a time.

Moral lessons aside, "Death Sentence" is mostly a gore-packed thriller where an Everyman turns into a Charles Bronson type who has the ability to outrun criminals who are half his age, shoot automatic weapons through concrete, and fistfight like he's Jason Bourne, sometimes using his briefcase as a weapon. Bronson comparisons are appropriate; "Death Sentence" is actually a reworking of 1974's "Death Wish," in which Bronson stars as a similar regular guy who avenges the murder of his wife, guns blazing.

What sets "Death Sentence" apart is that while violence was to be expected from grizzled Bronson, it isn't from Bacon, who is convincing as a happy-dad-turned-gaunt-killer and manages to look as shocked as we are by his quick evolution. Bacon seems intent on proving his dark side with films such as "Sleepers" and "The Woodsman." In "Sentence," he's best when he's clumsy, portraying Hume as a newcomer to violence who looks panicked when he shoots a gun for the first time.

Bacon fares better than his supporting cast, which includes Kelly Preston as Hume's ill-fated wife, pretty boy Garrett Hedlund of "Troy" and "Friday Night Lights" as a passable gang leader, "Friends" veteran Aisha Tyler as a detective, and John Goodman as a gun runner in coke-bottle glasses.

Action-movie one-liners are kept to a minimum, but the film doesn't avoid them altogether. One can't help but giggle when a bald and blood-stained Bacon gruffly barks at Goodman, of all people, "One more thing - I need to buy some guns." And Hedlund's tattooed gang villain beats us over the head with silly fortune-cookie closure.

"Look what I made you," he says to Bacon, telling us as heavy-handedly as possible that superdads and superthugs are not so different after all.

The cynics will slap their foreheads, the squeamish will cover their eyes, but the revenge movie fanatics should be nice and satisfied after the whole ordeal.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.com.

More from Boston.com

'Related'

Death Sentence

Directed by: James Wan

Written by: Ian Jeffers

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Garrett Hedlund, Kelly Preston, John Goodman

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Boston, and suburbs

Running time: 110 minutes

Rated: R (excessive violence and language)

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES