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MICHAEL WINNER REDIRECTS CHARLES BRONSON IN 'DEATH WISH II'

Title: DEATH WISH II Year: 1982 Rating: ****

Losing his wife entirely and daughter mentally to lethal hoods from the first movie had aged Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey eight-years when it's only supposed to be two.... which is how long it'd been since DEATH WISH made the already popular cult actor Charles Bronson a superstar... and now, in his last stretch at 60 years old, having joined the ranks of ambitious low-budget Cannon Films, the safest bet was a sequel... 

Along with Bronson, cinema had also changed from the early 1970's crime exploitation into the early 1980's horror/terror element, which is what Kersey... still a successful architect but now in Los Angeles instead of New York... is up against in the form of an ultra-violent gang as opposed to, from the original, random criminals coaxed from the streets (after the initial trio, led by Jeff Goldblum, were never heard of since) or saving innocent people from them...

Thomas F. Duffy and Laurence Fishburne in DEATH WISH II

This gang's one of those typically cinematic all-color types so that no particular race gets blamed, herein mostly black and white including two jive turkeys behind shades-wearing Laurence (still going by Larry) Fishburne... while on the Caucasian side is future FULL METAL JACKET Rafterman actor Kevyn Major Howard (who'd piss off Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry the following year)... 

Yet they all seem to mostly follow orders from the biggest white guy... actually the biggest guy period in Thomas F. Duffy's Nirvana, who eventually takes the liberal way out at a cozy insane asylum — where he and Bronson fight liken to a high-octane action flick finale... 

Robin Sherwood and E. Lamont Johnson in DEATH WISH II

So in DEATH WISH II the socially-conscious vigilantism theme is replaced with a modern revenge western template pitting a good guy against over-the-top villains... who had not only raped Kersey's surviving daughter (played by a younger actress, willing and able for nude scenes), but causing her demise i.e. a reason to be avenged...

And with antagonists so uncompromisingly brutal and sadistic, committing overboard acts almost too brutal to be filmed, it takes Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page to create a soundtrack so dark and ominous, it's more befitting the heavies than the heroes (in one scene the ghetto-blaster-wielding gang boogies to an instrumental track)... 

Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH II

Running wild in more of a contrived, stylized, noir-torn Los Angeles than the original's comparably realistic, financially-neglected New York City while Big Apple police chief Vincent Gardenia returns for a gruffly endearing appearance, helping instead of trying to snare the roving architect...

And also returning is director Michael Winner who, less centered on creative camera angles for eclectic crime-scene setups, is now busy orchestrating vicious methods for Bronson to kill each targeted thug, which takes up enough time for this time-filling exploitation to score points even while going through the motions.

Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH II
Laurence Fishburne and Kevyn Major Howard in DEATH WISH II
Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH II with Thomas F. Duffy

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