After "Saw" and last spring's disastrous "Dead Silence," I'm convinced the world would be a much better place if James Wan never directed again. However, nothing in his two previous films could properly prepare for the diseased offering of "Death Sentence," a wholly unpleasant, buffoonish take on vigilante justice that should be rightfully labeled cruel and unusual punishment.
Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon, doing a poor Kevin Bacon impression) is a loving, supportive father of two boys, possessing every suburban accoutrement he could desire. When a group of vicious punks murder his eldest during an initiation ritual, Nick's world is shattered. Finding the law incompetent, Nick decides to murder his son's killer, leaving him open to a forceful retaliation that he's not prepared for. As the stakes are raised by the gang, Nick finds himself overcome with fury, forced to make a choice between his family and feeding the depth of his pain.
It's nearly impossible to figure out just what goes through Wan's mind when he assembles his movies. Could these films be purposely tasteless and tacky, or is it a pure strain of incompetence? Before, it was kind of cute the way Wan would destroy his dramatic momentum with amateur-hour camera tricks or pull now legendary bad performances out of his actors. Sadly, "Sentence" reveals this was no joke. It turns out Wan is a legitimately atrocious filmmaker, and "Sentence" is his "Exile on Main St." of awful.
Though it claims to be adapted from Brian Garfield's 1975 sequel novel to "Death Wish," "Sentence" plainly exists in its own sleazy world. It's much more of a grindhouse creation, digging into lethal levels of violence and melodrama that will surely earn it permanent rotation on the midnight movie circuit, or immortalize it as a beloved camp icon of cinema-flavored drag shows. Either way, it's not a film to be taken seriously, but I fear someone forgot to mention that to Wan.
Approaching the material as though it was some type of cultural holy water, Wan presents the odyssey of Nick Hume from family puss to Bickle-like nightmare with heavy religious and dramatic overtones, yet the movie is a decidedly R-rated action brawl, with slashed throats and severed limbs everywhere. It's bizarre to watch the film pole vault between a sensitive tale of grief (complete with a Sarah McLachlan song!) to something you might find on the abysmal "Masters of Horror" cable series, with Wan unable to make up his mind what he wants his audience to feel.
Personally, I felt embarrassed watching such an astonishing collection of ineptitude grace the screen; one almost needs to see "Sentence" to fully appreciate how bonkers the picture gets. The trouble starts with the one-dimensional screenplay that tries to contrast the "Bestest Dad Ever!" world with the seedy underbelly of crime. To achieve this, Wan costumes Nick in his bland business attire while the thugs of the film are shaved-head goons with neck tattoos who salivate at the prospect of bystander bodily damage. Subtle, huh?
Once Nick starts to pick off these Hot Topic refugees, Wan begins to introduce increasingly show-offy camera moves that add nothing to the tension and make the film look like a student project; the constantly-roving lens almost striking the actors at certain points. The main demo-reel moment comes as Nick tries to evade the tweakers in a parking ramp. Wan cranes his camera all over the place, but if I was supposed to feel awe, all I could muster were yawns. "Sentence" is full of idiotic angles and Tony Scottesque lighting as the filmmaker searches to imprint a style on the film that spices up the absurd screenplay and heady servings of appalling acting.
In the final act, "Sentence" really loses its mind and stoops to amazing levels of pandering I never thought possible before. Yet, to fully explain how astronomically stupid the events in the film get, I would have to lay down a heavy load of spoilers. I won't go that far, but I will mention that Wan kills off a major character that hilariously receives no mention after the fact, turns the final 15 minutes into a tone poem of bad directorial choices, and tries to soften the deplorable hardcore violence that engulfs the picture with a last-minutes oily grab at irony. By this point, Uwe Boll's worst would feel like a tropical vacation compared to this mountainous pile of rubbish.
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