Due to a wholesale rejection of international copyright law, Turkish cinemas were packed during the 1970s and early 1980s with craven rip-offs of Hollywood blockbusters — Turkish Star Wars (a.k.a. Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam) received the most exposure when this dubious practice was discovered by the Internet meme factory, but no less silly and mesmerizing are the Turkish adaptations of such cultural landmarks as The Exorcist, E.T. and, of course, Death Wish.
Cellat (a.k.a. The Executioner, a.k.a. Turkish Death Wish) is an exceedingly faithful adaptation of Michael Winner's 1974 hit, with its only major diversions near the end, as its protagonist's experiments in general vigilantism channel into direct revenge. As usual with Turkish “mockbusters,” Cellat is overwhelmed by the obvious cheapness of its production, and is full of oddball details and histrionic melodrama that give it a camp purity despite its cynical origins. As a movie to be laughed at, Cellat is rich material. The opening scene — analogous the the opening of Death Wish, which establishes a tropical paradise vacation in contrast to the murky crime-infested city — depicting a couples’ vacation in the mountains, is so absurdly fixated on eating and laughing that it could be mistaken for a scene about a lunatics’ picnic. The inciting gang in Cellat, unlike the menacing youths in Winner’s version, look like very old men in silly costumes behaving like young children.
Yet, there’s no denying that star Serdar Gökhan and his imposing mustache have a steely, blank charism not dissimilar to that of Charles Bronson, and even though the exaggerated amateurism of most of the acting pushes it over the top, there appears to be considerable cinematic capability behind the planning and shooting of some scenes. Even the music, in its raw production, is memorable and effective (and probably highly derivative of, if not outright stolen from, Ennio Morricone and other composers of mid-1970s European exploitation). When Cellat diverges from its source and Gökhan squares off against his family's attackers, there’s legitimate excitement and invention to his violent outbursts.
Cellat, due to its very nature as a shameless and threadbare rip-off, is never a good movie, but it is fun, and leaves a lingering wonder at what director Memduh Ün might have been able to accomplish with a better budget, a loftier goal and better overall production infrastructure behind him.
Based in part on author Brian Garfield's sequel to his novel Death Wish, James Wan's take on vigilantism is visually unpleasant and marred at every turn by a sensational emotionalism that seems to want to be taken seriously as drama — even though everything around it is ridiculous. Kevin Bacon's transformation from a dorky dad into Travis Bickle (with direct visual homages to Taxi Driver in the final scene, which fail to flatter this movie by comparison) feels forced and desperate. Not even the reliable John Goodman can overcome Wan's needy hyperstyle, which reduces everything in Death Sentence into an ugly cartoon.
After about 20 minutes I realized I had seen Death Sentence before and had forgotten all about it. Hopefully, I'll be as fortunate following this second viewing.