DEATH WISH [R] D
While filmmaker Joe Carnahan (“Narc”), who gets a screenwriting credit for his adaptation/reboot of Brian Garfield’s novel which spawned the 1974 original movie starring Charles Bronson, has a noted fascination with the pulpier genre side of narrative storytelling, he’s always had a shrewd sense of humor about these exercises, which kept his projects from veering into dark brutality. Unfortunately, his script fell into the hands of Eli Roth (“Hostel”), a filmmaker who enjoys the sadistic and adds an unhealthy dose of conservative gun posturing and suburban white fear of urban violence. In this treatment, Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a white guy in a hoodie, gets dubbed “The Grim Reaper” for taking justice in his own hands with very little consideration for the oath he took to save lives. The movie seeks, I suppose, to support the idea that all we need is a good guy with a gun, but audiences should recognize how this simple-minded this fantasy really is.
RED SPARROW [R] D+
What a week at the box office for violent fantasies, right? From the conservative fever-dream of the “Death Wish” reboot to this Francis Lawrence collaboration with his “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence, which seeks to turn “Atomic Blonde” into a “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” level espionage thriller but reduces its spy games to a series of sexual assault exchanges in search of an empowering message. When ballerina Dominika (Lawrence) suffers a career-ending injury, her creepy uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) enlists her in a secret training program that weaponizes sexuality (of course, not before attempting to titillate us with scenes of sexual brutality). We’re supposed to recognize that Dominika utilizes the same focus that made her a near-great dancer to become a dominate spy, but the movie never spotlights these nuances. It fails even further by refusing to play to the kind of fun heroics that inform the fantasies of “Atomic Blonde” or superhero genre. The real lesson learned here: such aggressive brutality will leave audiences in the cold.