I had only seen the Death Wishes I & II up till tonight and I suppose I should have anticipated the deterioration three entries on. No jokes about this bringing on a Death Wish for me or sapping my will to live, but a little over an hour into it I switched over to NYPD Blue. I’m sorry I waited that long because I missed the intro and and then some — and in the nightly reruns they’re just up to the stage where Russell has left to find herself and Charlotte Ross has yet to start a relationship with Sipowicz. (I personally like Dennis Franz as an actor but Sipowicz’s effortless — often reluctant — success with beautiful young women one after the other stretches credulity. It seems to follow the English pattern of casting where they put a plain-looking but good actor in to play a sex symbol and expect him or her to work miracles of suspension-of-disbelief on the part of the viewer.)
In that limited time, in fact in the first 15 minutes, I could see that Kersey, played by 73-year-old Charles Bronson in his 40th year in starring roles, had lost it. About to marry beautiful fashionista Lesley Anne Down, who is only 40 here, he seems to sleepwalk into situations that the early Kersey would have dealt with with ruthless aplomb. Lesley, who won a custody case years before for daughter Chelcie over her ex, sociopathic mob leader Michael Parks, is about to testify against him. Kersey/Bronson has already seen what this guy and his minions are capable of, having left a pool of congealed blood on the factory floor from a victim who crossed them. Yet, when Parks and his stooges follow him and Lesley into a restaurant and Lesley spends far too long powdering her nose all Kersey can raise the energy to do is lift his watch and look irritatedly at it every now and again. Was that irritation? — Bronson’s face was so immobile by now that it’s hard to tell. To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was still depressed over the death of wife Jill Ireland three or four years before — I would be.
Parks’ cross-dressing henchman deals to Lesley’s lovely face (she was once voted the world’s most beautiful teen) by bashing it into the ladies’ room mirror three times. Kersey is in time to catch her as she collapses from loss of blood and accompanies her to the plastic surgery ward though it is known she will be disfigured for life. Finally, he reacts by going to his home safe and getting his trusty handgun. Unfortunately, he forgets to use it for quite a while. He suspects his friend the district attorney’s phone is tapped and is sharp enough not to tell him over the phone that Lesley will still be testifying, but is stupid enough to go round to his house and tell him — thinking it makes a difference. Of course, when the bad guys come round to eliminate Lesley, Kersey is left holding (well, not his gun) in his hand — and instead throws a vase at three men wielding machine guns and shotguns. They kill Lesley while Kersey, apparently still in great physical shape, throws himself off their building in a swan dive (to land on a well-placed mountain of garbage bags), just in time to cradle Lesley’s bloodsoaked head as she expires. He forgets to register any emotion in this scene, even vaguely pissed off.
Back home Chelcie tells him casually, “I’m going to miss Mom.” The next morning, resisting prostration from grief, Kersey is out taking a bracing jog through beautiful snowlined streets — I guess to keep in shape — can’t backslide on exercise — and they say it’s especially good for warding off depression. The horrible men show up to claim Chelcie and Kersey gets clubbed with a chunk of his own firewood. This is the limit! Yes, they can mutilate and murder my wife, steal my child from my home… But now they’re out of line! And next we see Kersey happily playing with a remote control soccer ball in a toystore. At least, he raises a faint smile now that the expendable members of the family are out of the way, enough to show that he’s back in his element devising elaborate revenges.
I only saw fragments of the rest of it — including how head baddie Michael Parks got his — but I am well able to resist spoiling it for anyone out there who might be in the least interested in watching this movie. The sad part is that Chelcie will have to spend the next 10 years being raised by a psycho mob family — because Kersey couldn’t move himself in time either to marry her mother.