“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Death Kiss

The success of DEATH WISH launched a million sleazy urban vigilante revenge pictures, but it took 44 years – one for each millimeter in a Magnum – for us to get one starring an uncanny Charles Bronson lookalike. In the tradition of THE MAN WITH HUMPHREY BOGART’S FACE, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE, the entire genre of Bruceploitation, Dolly the Sheep and Madame Tussaud’s comes DEATH KISS starring Robert Kovacs, a.k.a. Robert Bronzi. He doesn’t have a death wish, he is the kiss of death, you see. They explain that.

I believe this is a sincere tribute and/or a weird novelty, not a cash grab, because it’s not like there’s gonna be big money in tricking somebody into thinking there’s another old Bronson movie they never heard of, or that Bronson is alive and looking the same age as he was in DEATH WISH four decades ago. There’s no explanation, he just appears there with his messy hair and trademark mustache, wearing his Paul Kersey trenchcoat and tie, a mysterious stranger showing up where he’s not supposed to, putting bullets into child traffickers and their clients, or unsolicited cash into the mailbox of a troubled single mother (Eva Hamilton, OUIJA HOUSE) who has no idea who he is.

He lives in a torn up apartment furnished only with a metal folding chair when he’s not barging through doors, hiding around corners, sometimes jumping. He’s pretty nimble – his body looks a little younger than his head to me. But I don’t think it’s makeup.

In real Bronson movies sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my head around a normal, pretty woman spending time with this man carved out of a knotted tree trunk with a chainsaw. And it seems even odder in a 2018 movie. They don’t fall in love, though. In a depressing moment she opens her shirt, thinking that’s what he’s after, but he’s not.

The weirdest and best thing about DEATH KISS is that there’s no irony or nudging or meta-ness. It’s a straight forward formulaic vigilante movie with all the usual tropes (talk radio host [Daniel Baldwin, VAMPIRES] who supports him, people he watches after for mysterious reasons, half-assed lip service to the notion that maybe there may be some ethical problems with going around fucking blowing people’s heads off but probly it’s the right thing to do in this case). It’s watchable and competently made for this kind of thing at this kind of budget, but nothing more. Truly the one and only unusual thing about it is that instead of starring Eric Roberts or whoever it would’ve been in the normal human world version, it stars this guy:


Turns out Bronzi and writer/director Rene Perez previously did a 2017 western Bronsalike called FROM HELL TO THE WILD WEST. He’s also in something called ESCAPE FROM DEATH BLOCK 13, which I gotta assume is the same deal, since his websight provides no evidence of him ever not looking like Charles Bronson.

The illusion is so convincing that honestly at times I would forget it wasn’t the real Bronson I was looking at. But the spell was spoken any time he had to speak. His voice sounds dubbed, but not by much of a Bronson imitator. Which is funny, because I’m positive it would be way easier to find someone who does a great Bronson voice than someone who looks this much like him. Why not go all the way?

He has some lines that are very Bronson-esque, though. His friend Ana mentions a coyote in the area and later he pulls out a big rifle and all he says is “For your coyote.”

I was surprised to find that the movie is not a throwback. I mean, it is in the sense that there’s a target shooting montage where a man patiently teaches a woman how to shoot. But not in a stylistic sense. There are no ’70s fonts or outfits, and they don’t try to make the digital video look like film stock. It’s clearly the modern world he’s manifested into. Machete don’t text, but Bronzi takes a drug pusher’s phone and responds to a message from his mule at the airport. The retro synth score brings in some hip hop beats, and a child sex trafficker uses “pizza” as a code word, which I think was probly a thing the Pizzagate crazies made up, but either way that’s gotta be where they got it from. And there are a couple scenes with first person shooter style shots with the gun in the foreground, which I don’t remember being a technique ever used in the DEATH WISH series.

I guess one thing that does seem retro is the idea that drug traffickers need to be executed. Ana is an ex-junkie, and his rampage stems back to an incident at a drug house. But did he really need to murder the guy desperate enough to take a job hiding drugs in his ass? In my opinion no. Especially when we started with the guy pimping out a little girl! None of the other people he kills seem so bad after opening that way.

Although the author of the source novel, Brian Garfield, felt that DEATH WISH glorified vigilantism, it ends on a note of “this guy has completely lost touch with reality.” So I think this 2018 movie’s politics are actually a little more regressive than the original. Baldwin’s scenes are alone in the studio making long monologues that 1) filibuster the shit out of the running time and 2) justify racial profiling and shit with made up anecdotal evidence about babies getting shot. I think we’re supposed to find his arguments sympathetic. Also we’re not supposed to notice that there is a right wing radio host who seems to spend his whole show only talking about vigilantism and not, like, Hillary Clinton or you guys this political correctness is out of control on campus what about the antifas.

Some of the actors playing K’s victims are pretty good. I like the big scumbag pimp at the beginning talking very friendly and with a little bit of a kiddy lisp. Very skeezy. And the main drug gang guy (Richard Tyson, THREE O’CLOCK HIGH) is kinda funny and looks like a short, squat version of the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That guy’s dealing with a traitor and he brings him out to some snowy woods (homage to DEATH HUNT?), ties him to a tree and squirts barbecue sauce on him. I thought this was a funny way to say “I’m about to burn you at the stake,” but then he makes a little speech about how wolves and bears will be attracted by the smell. Which, I mean, I don’t know. I’m no scientist or gourmet barbecue expert, maybe that’s a real thing.

You know how Nick Cave wrote a sequel to GLADIATOR where Maximus battles in the underworld and is eventually resurrected years after his death and becomes some kind of personification of war, battling in every major conflict across centuries? That’s my preferred explanation for this return of “Charles Bronson” and all his famous DEATH WISH outfits in an age of digital video and smart phones. I think we’re supposed to take him as an ageless Paul Kersey, since he only identifies himself as “K,” and is credited as “The Stranger / K.” He’ll look the same and wear the same clothes avenging robot crime in DEATH KISS 2050.

Perez is credited as writer, director, editor, cinematographer and composer (the opening credits say “The Darkest Machines,” but the end credits get cocky and add an a.k.a.) He has 18 directing credits since 2010, mostly horror and fantasy exploitation stuff. The ones I recognize the covers of are THE SNOW QUEEN and the mockbuster AMERICAN COWBOYS VS. ALIENS.

Having now seen DEATH KISS I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding why it exists. But I hope it plays on cable, confusing people and creating a weird idea about the timeline of Bronson’s life. Whenever they show a phone it’ll throw people off like when I watch the 1977 STAR WARS on cable and forget there’s gonna be a cg part all the sudden.

What’s next for Bronzploitation? I say remake DAMNATION ALLEY and other movies that the real Bronson was almost in or wanted for. Or put him in subgenres Bronson wasn’t around for, such as a cyberpunk thriller or found footage horror. Make a DEATH KISS 2 that makes DEATH WISH 3 look like NEVER BEEN KISSED. CHARLES BRONSON FIGHTS BACK FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE and THE CLONES OF CHARLES BRONSON would definitely be important contributions to our culture. Or what about a horror crossover called DEATHWISHMASTER? There is so much we can do with this technology, I just hope we find the right balance of boldness and ethics to do it right.

DEATH KISS comes to VOD and digital October 2nd.

P.S. Speaking of Bronson lookalikes, I just discovered that somebody put chunks of REASON FOR LIVING: THE JILL IRELAND STORY on Youtube, so I finally get to see how Lance Henriksen plays Bronson. (He doesn’t imitate the voice either.)

 

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 24th, 2018 at 12:30 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Death Kiss”

  1. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people appropriating Charles Bronson’s likeness for their own ends.

  2. Am I mistaken, or wasn’t this guy Bronson’s photo double for his last few pictures? I read that somewhere…

  3. Holy shit that likeness is incredible! I almost have to believe this is like an LA CONFIDENTIAL situation, but instead of sex workers getting cut to look more like Hollywood ingenues, it’s C-list bodybuilders becoming the surgical doppelgängers of deceased action stars.

  4. They should try and explain it the way A BETTER TOMORROW 2 tries to explain bringing back Chow, it is an identical twin that has never been mentioned. Bronzi is the unknown identical euro twin.

  5. I had seen the trailers for this but didn’t know it was directed by Rene Perez. I have a costume department credit on American Cowboys vs. Aliens because they borrowed some of my Old West wardrobe/prop guns for it. It’s basically Predator in the Old West and stars an Arnold lookalike/soundalike from Austria named Robert Amstler (who looks more like a young Arnold but doesn’t have the striking resemblance that this Bronson imposter does, although his voice work is much better).

  6. david j. moore: I saw someone say he was a stunt double, but if so it’s not listed on his IMDb page. Elsewhere I saw reference to him winning a lookalike contest in 2010. I couldn’t find many details.

    David Lambert: That is really funny, now I’m curious about that movie. I wonder what other celebrity lookalikes lurk in his filmography?

  7. I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Kovacs this past May and attended an early screening of DEATH KISS. He was indeed dubbed for the movie as his English is still shaky. But Bronzi can clearly handle the action stuff even if most of what they throw his way is running and shooting. At least they mix it up with running-and-shooting in different settings: the city, a junkyard, and out in the Northern California wilderness. Hopefully his next project will feature more Bronson-esque fisticuffs. The part of the movie I’m most uncertain about are Daniel Baldwin’s scenes. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to identify with his ranting or take it as a send-up of right wing radio. The way it’s shot is a bit amusing. I thought it was obvious he was alone in the studio but they kept cutting away to disembodied hands working a mixing console, sliding faders up and down and pushing buttons which clearly aren’t doing anything.

  8. Vern: good question. I know he makes a lot of cheap-o Westerns with ridiculous gimmicks and titles similar to movies no one really liked in the first place. From Hell to the Wild West is about Jack the Ripper in the Old West (fun fact, I was hired to do a rewrite on a Spanish Western with the same stupid concept, both with killers with burlap sacks on their heads… guess there was something in the water) and he has two zombie themed Westerns called The Dead and the Damned 1&2 (also known as Zombies and Cowboys, I believe). American Cowboys and Aliens is also called The Day the Wild West Stood Still. His next film is titled The Dragon Unleashed so maybe he’s getting into Brucesploitation too?

  9. I haven’t seen this, but gimmicks like it always reminds me of Robert “The Man With Bogarts Face” Sacchi. He had was an OK actor, but the novelty of looking like a dead superstar wore off. He ended up in porn, if I’m not mistaking.

  10. Guys, I feel guilty as hell about this but I’m gonna have to go ahead and recommend CHINA SALESMAN, the recent idiotic international coproduction “starring” Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal (credited as “Steve”) and about 85 metric tons of baffling yet extremely specific discussion of network speeds and pro-China propaganda that Michael Bay would call “a little on the nose.” It’s about the efforts of the title character and a diverse bunch of other non-English speakers to set up a telecom network in an (I think) unnamed African country. Tyson is the displaced prince of a lost tribe who speaks with some kind of fancy accent when he’s not dubbed. Seagal owns a speakeasy and has seven lines. His exit from the movie concerns a random character explaining that he moved to South America offscreen. Tyson gets to shoot a bazooka and give a heartfelt monologue that is both ridiculous and sincere in that weird Tyson way. There are intense montages that result in a swirl of violins when the connection time is dropped by one and a half seconds. A blonde lady saves a child from genital mitigation but it was all just a funny misunderstanding. China alone saves Africa from itself and from meddling westerners. Tyson says “You make me drink pee, you die!” There are typos on most of the logos. It’s a riot.

    But fuck all that. The main thing this hilarious state-sanctioned piece of bafoonery has going for it is an awesome Tyson barfight where he punches the entire set to death, followed by a Tyson vs. Seagal’s stunt double/slow-mo insert shots battle that totally delivers. I’m not the expert here but I imagine it’s more effective as action than anything Ol’ Casual Steve has been involved in since FIRE DOWN BELOW. Lots of destroyed props and loe grace notes. And the way it plays out is incredibly satisfying considering his recent heel turn. The movie never comes close to topping that scene but it has a bunch of tanks and helicopters and squibs and stuff. If you’re a fan of English dialogue delivered phonetically and at great intensity to and by actors who don’t understand it then you will enjoy the incongruous charms of CHINA SALESMAN, which is also briefly the kind of movie where a guy with dreadlocks throws a barrel at Mike Tyson so he punches it. Majestyk says check it out.

  11. “Genital mitigation” might be the best typo of my career.

    Anybody else notice that if a word is unpleasant, Apple spellcheck just won’t let you type it?

  12. MR. M, that is good to hear. I have been wanting to see CHINA SALESMEN.

  13. Recently saw the DEATH WISH remake, and I was toying with churning out a quickie script for a DW homage when I read this review. It’s as if the universe is compelling me. Since these stories practically write themselves, the only real challenge is coming up with the title. Here are a few candidates:

    DEATH DEATH
    DEATH FOR A DEATH
    DEATHWISHERS
    EAT DEATH
    LIVE FOR DEATH
    WISH FOR DEATH / WISH OF DEATH
    WISH UPON A DEATH IN AMERI-DEATH

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