September 6, 2007

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Death Sentence (R)
Kevin Bacon dresses up as a suburban dad turned bad-ass for Halloween and we all get to indulge his fantasy of being the action hero in Death Sentence.

Kevin Bacon is, what, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet? Heís no more an action hero than I am and if the ďactionĒ had something to do with speed of pizza consumption or TV channel surfing Iím pretty sure I could kick his butt. But, hey, we all like to dress up. So, in Death Sentence, Kevin Bacon gets to (SPOILER ALERT) pull on a leather jacket and load up a couple of large-caliber weapons like heís the star of the latest Tarantino flick. Well, good for you, I donít believe in this tough guy Kevin Bacon, but Happy Halloween all the same.

Nick (Bacon) has life by the short hairs ó a beautiful family (in the home video montage opener we watch his two sons grow into teenagers), a lovely home and, a successful job at an insurance company where heís able to read actuarial tables and make foreshadowy commentary about what they say about life. His oldest son Brendan (Stuart Lafferty), a high school senior, has just won the big hockey game and is looking forward to a possible future in professional hockey. In one of those ďyouíre going to regret that later, later being in two minutesĒ scenes, Nick calls his wife Helen (Kelly Preston) to tell her that Brendan is headed off to Canada and they might never see him again. Click, phone call over; bang, robbers bust into the gas station convenience story where Brendan is buying a slushie while Nick fills up the car. Two muscle cars full of skinheaded or spikey-haired hooligans pour into the store and, after some yelling, kill the station attendant and then Brendan.

Nick runs toward the store, getting a good look at the boy who killed his son, and then rushes into the station to hold a bleeding-to-death Brendan and scream for help rather than, say, picking up the phone in his pocket and CALLING 911 ALREADY.

Sorry, itís a nitpicky drama-over-common-sense thing, but it absolutely drove me nuts to watch Nick just wail and rock and yell while more or less sitting on his phone in a part of town where, as had been established minutes earlier, nobody else was around to hear all the commotion. Would frantic dialing really have spoiled the mood that much? (I am equally aggravated when movie charcters show up somewhere with luggage, set it down in a hall and wander away, with their suitcases magically appearing later. Itís like an itch you just canít reach.) Naturally, taking time out to wail while your son bleeds from his neck does not promote speedy healing and Brendan dies, leaving a bereft Nick and Helen with only younger son Lucas (Jordan Garrett), who Nick has actually been kind of jerky to, what with the kid not being a hockey champion and all.

Perhaps itís the more complicated nature of his relationship with Lucas or just the crazy amount of grief and guilt Nick bears for losing Brendan on his watch but he is particularly justice-demanding when he meets with the district attorney to prepare his testimony against the kid who killed his son. The DA tells him they can maybe get the kid to plea bargain, getting maybe three to five years in prison. Nick is horrified ó three years for his sonís life? Watching this unfazed punk kid make cocky gestures to him in court, Nick snaps. He gets on the stand and declines to make a positive identification of the kid. We know now that Nick has decided to find his own justice.

Loud, bullet-ridden justice.

Bacon might not be a convincing action hero but he is a convincing pissed-off dad who is sort of shocked by his own ferociousness. Because this movie, which turns into an absolute Bellagio-Las-Vegas-hotel-fountain of blood in its final act, gets Bacon and not just some Dermot Mulroney-ish third-tier-er, we actually get moments of nuance between all the flying bullet casings and rounds of ďIím going to get you, bleep-ing bleeper-bleeper.Ē We get moments where we can see his shock at everything thatís happened and at his own reactions to it. He vacillates between being a nothing-to-lose tough guy and a guy who realizes he does, indeed, still have a wife and son to lose.

This tablespoon of introspection does not, however, counteract the pound of full-on, cheese-coated, vigilante-cheering (to a point), stage-blood-soaked gusto that makes most of the movie. Itís a movie that loves the slow-mo, suiting-up-for-battle shots and that throws in a John Goodman cameo just to make sure we know how seriously itís not taking any of this.

Death Sentence is hardly a tour de force Bacon performance or even, by any standards, remotely close to a good movie. But as vigilante justice flicks go, itís surprisingly watchable. C+

Rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and pervasive language. Directed by James Wan and written by Ian Jeffers (from a novel by Brian Garfield), Death Sentence is an hour and 50 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox Distribution.