During the 1980s, Menahem Golan had produced three Death Wish sequels with his business partner Yoram Globus through their company Cannon Films. After the release of Death Wish 4 in 1987, Cannon had every intention of continuing the franchise, but then the bottom fell out and the demise of the company put the kibosh on the further adventures of vigilante Paul Kersey.
As part of his Cannon severance, Golan was given control of a production/distribution company called 21st Century Film Corporation, and after a few years of struggling to make it successful, Golan decided that the shot in the arm the company needed was another Death Wish movie.
Written and directed by Allan A. Goldstein, the resulting sequel finds Paul Kersey – Charles Bronson reprising his iconic role for the final time – living a peaceful life in New York, having entered the Witness Protection Program, taken the new identity Paul Stewart, and gotten a job teaching architecture.
Like he was in Death Wish 4, Kersey/Stewart is dating a much younger woman who is the single mother of a teenage daughter, in this case Kersey’s beloved is famed fashion designer Olivia Regent, mother to Chelsea. Kersey and Olivia are happy and in love, so in love that he even proposes to her. And she accepts. Kersey may finally be able to settle down in peace. If only Olivia hadn’t had such terrible taste in men in her past.
Chelsea’s father is a mobster named Tommy O’Shea, and his split with Olivia, who was given sole custody of their daughter, was not amicable. Since then, O’Shea has been infiltrating every aspect of the fashion and garment business in attempt to mess with Olivia’s life. After O’Shea makes a particularly nasty display of aggression behind the scenes of one of Olivia’s fashion shows, bruising her wrist and having a gun pulled on Kersey, Olivia decides it’s time to reveal the secrets she knows to police. Law enforcement officers are very receptive to this idea, as they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to take O’Shea down for sixteen years.
Unfortunately, O’Shea has eyes and ears everywhere, and Olivia’s plan gets back to him. Everyone who makes a move toward busting O’Shea, threatens to squeal on him, or has witnessed something they could report to the police ends up either dead or horribly injured. His ex is no different. In attempt to stop her from testifying against him, O’Shea has one of his lackeys disfigure her by smashing her face into a mirror repeatedly. When that doesn’t dissuade her, O’Shea feels forced to have her killed as soon as she’s out of the hospital. And so Kersey loses another love interest when Olivia is shot dead. I don’t know how they get so lucky as to pull off the killing shot on her, since they can’t hit Kersey with the double team of a machine gun and a shotgun from five feet away, but it happens.
At times Kersey’s love interests had seemed entirely pointless (part 3), sometimes their deaths were completely unnecessary (3 and 4), but the screenwriters always felt the need to include them and then kill them off. Only Jill Ireland’s character in Death Wish II dared to love Paul Kersey and got out of it alive.
To this point, Kersey has been reluctant to fall back on his old vigilante ways, wanting to play by the rules and let the law handle O’Shea. But by killing Olivia, O’Shea has made a big mistake. Kersey lets himself off the leash…
The movie is half over by the time Kersey finally loads his gun, but he makes up for lost time in the second half, proceeding to gun down baddies, poison their cannolis, knock them into paper shredders and acid baths, he even blows one up with a bomb hidden inside a remote control soccer ball.
They make remote control soccer balls? Why?
Death Wish: The Face of Death is not very highly regarded, most fans are likely to choose any of the previous sequels over it, but it’s not really all that bad, as far these movies go. Allan A. Goldstein deserves some kudos for attempting to make a sequel in the series with a more complicated storyline than any of the previous ones, but the problem for me is, there’s so many stops and starts, ups and downs, time outs, and chats with cops and villains that it loses me and my attention wanders… Until there’s more gunfire to pull me back in. It’s a rare sequel whose biggest failing is that it focuses too much on story and character.
This film was a low budget affair, a Canadian production with Toronto standing in for New York City and with all the production quality of a TV movie, which is part of the problem – the atmosphere is not engaging.
Still, Goldstein was able to assemble a fantastic cast for it. Even though Charles Bronson was more than seventy years old when this film was shot, he still proves to be a capable action hero within, which is quite an accomplishment. Bronson is pitted against the always incredible Michael Parks as Tommy O’Shea. I believe it should be every director’s goal to get Michael Parks as much attention as possible, and ideally an Oscar. Parks appears to have had a lot of fun in the role, and he’s a delight to watch. I love that he describes Kersey as “a geek” the first time he sees him. Also in the cast are Lesley-Anne Down as the ill-fated Olivia, Robert Joy, Saul Rubinek, and Miguel Sandoval.
The fifth Death Wish isn’t as fun as some of the movies that came before it, but as far as sequels and action revenge movies go, it certainly has some merit.
The film was 21st Century’s great hope, but unfortunately it barely got a theatrical run and didn’t save the company from going bankrupt soon after… But not before Menahem Golan started planning to revitalize the series with Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante, which would replace Kersey and Bronson with a new character and star. Because the world was crying out for that, right? It almost certainly would have been a disaster for the company, so at least its bankruptcy saved it from that.
Kersey gets a nice send-off in the final moments, walking away from the camera and toward a distant light while telling a police officer, “If you need any help, give me a call.” It’s a great final image for the character, and though Charles Bronson would never again play Paul Kersey, passing away nine years after this film’s release, we’re left with the knowledge that the character will always be out there, ready and waiting.