Messenger of Death

December 29, 2010

Charles Bronson varies his formula ever so slightly in Messenger of Death, in which he plays a reporter out to discover who slaughtered a family in rural Colorado.

The fact that the movie is set outside of the big bad city is one step away from Bronson’s Death Wish routine, and the fact that he’s not playing a retired hit man lured out of retirement is another.

The murder is related to an extremist Mormon family that believes in blood atonement, a policy that allows murder to be very much in the air. Which, for a Charles Bronson movie, is a pretty good place for murder to be.

Apparently, the massacre that opens the film, in which a houseful of women and children are gunned down, is the result of a family feud between warring, wigged-out polygamists, whose Old Testament cragginess echoes the Colorado hills. But, having established this juicy stand-off, the film kills off the two patriarchs.

With this exotic religious element gone, the film degenerates into the same old Bronson shoot-’em-up, with our man exhibiting his usual invincibility. Not only does Bronson evade all bullets sent his direction, he also navigates a little pickup truck between two thundering 18-wheelers that are trying to make a highway sandwich out of him.

After the initial intrigue with the Mormon business, the film becomes as perfunctory as Bronson’s standard (veteran J. Lee Thompson, a regular collaborator in Bronson’s last, sleepwalking decade, directs). Bronson’s love interest, for instance, seems to be split between a fellow reporter and a small-town publisher. But, having set up certain possibilities with these two women, the movie proceeds to ignore them. Just killing time, it turns out, between those dull spots when Bronson isn’t beating somebody up.

First published in the Herald, 1988.

When I think about reviewing movies in the 1980s I think about driving up to the Aurora Village mall or some other awful suburban movie-showing venue in order to see a Charles Bronson picture. I like Bronson everywhere else, but in the Eighties—hoo boy, with a couple of exceptions, it’s a trudge through diminishing budgets and spirits.