Movie review in the Friday, Aug. 31 Oregonian:
By which I mean: It's straight-to-video junk in which a few people are memorably chased and/or blown away.
The movie's about a corporate family man (Kevin Bacon) drawn into a violent web of revenge against gang members who all look like Vin Diesel. We know Bacon is a family man because we see his home movies, in which everyone hugs and laughs. We know Bacon is doomed because when we first meet him, he's quoting insurance-company figures that say people who take fewer risks live longer. I believe Mr. Wan and his screenwriter would call this "foreshadowing," and it's about as subtle as the bullets and beatings that follow.
Bacon's son is macheted to death (macheted?) during a gas-station robbery. Bacon may or may not go all Charles Bronson on someone between bouts of grief-shaking. And the remaining gang members may or may not show up at Bacon's office and house between bouts of chasing him around a city that consists largely of alleys and abandoned buildings. Also, Bacon may or may not partially shave his head and look really cool and grim-faced while blowing off assorted limbs with a shotgun.
Wan has a real knack for foot-chases and semi-cathartic violence. His action scenes use long takes and elaborate camera swoops through hallways and parking garages and the like, and after this particular action-movie summer, the fact that you can actually tell what's going on is almost refreshing.
Unfortunately, other than offering a couple of mean plot twists, "Death Sentence" is plain foolish. It can't decide whether it's a cheesy-earnest morality play about violence or a bloodier-than-usual revengesploitation flick. (I'm spoiling nothing by revealing that the movie is far better in one role than another.) The dialogue is horrible. Several supporting characters (cops, lawyers, criminals) are so exaggerated, I kept waiting for the camera to pan over to Leslie Nielsen. There are too many moments that don't make sense, and way too many moments where something horrible happens and the soundtrack immediately cues up a sad little emo song that tries to do all your feeling for you.
Bacon gives it his all, but the script asks him to perform tasks that include, I kid you not, leaping out of a hospital bed seconds after waking from a coma to run down a hall and give a heartfelt bedside speech to another patient -- all while wearing a cartoon bandage on his head.
In fact, that moment sums up "Death Sentence" pretty well: It's a cartoon that thinks it isn't one.
_____C-minus; 110 minutes; rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language.
'Death Sentence' (The Oregonian, Aug. 31, 2007)