Bill Johnson (Bill Oberst Jr.) has lost his daughter to an opioid overdose and while his podcast about the epidemic helps him deal with the loss, he still feels like he could do more. Perhaps something like wearing a mask and becoming a vigiilante out to violently stop the sale of pills? That seems like a plan.
Director Mark Savage — who co-wrote this with Tom Parnell* — makes a lean and mean Death Wish for today out of this movie. It’s tightly edited and pulses with energy, never outstaying its welcome. Some may be put off by the heavy messaging in the movie, but it definitely believes in its subject matter. That’s because Parnell lost his daughter to a opioid overdose, so you can completely understand his mindset here.
What also helps make this movie better than expectations are its stars. Michael Paré is a long-time favorite and, as always, he brings something extra to his role. And Oberst knows how to play the damaged hero quite well. This could have been simple wish fulfillment, but boh actors add a gravitas to this film that take it a step above.
*They’ve worked together to make the movies Purgatory Road and Stressed to Kill as well, the latter of which features Oberst’s character killing people to keep his blood pressure down. Plus, it has Armand Assante in it! Painkiller was originally called Stressed to Kill: Doctor’s Orders, so it is a spiritual sequel at the very least.
Painkiller is available is available on demand and on DVD from Cinedigm. Look for our interview with Bill Oberst Jr. to learn more. We’ve also reviewed Bill’s work in Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge (2019) and The Good Things Devil’s Do (2020).