Rodriguez, Death Wish 3
Consider the life and times of Joseph Gonzalez. He appears in but two movies other than the enshrined classic Death Wish 3, playing some cat named Zorro in Frankenhooker, and wrapping up the indignity with 1988’s Brain Damage, listed only as “Guy in Shower.” Guy in shower. Was that it for this too-brief candle? I mean, was he a bullet-ridden corpse at least? Was full-frontal arranged? And did he register in either case? Having found no evidence that Mr. Gonzalez either died by his own hand or left the country due to tax problems, it can only be assumed that he was unable to find show business work ever again. Sure, he’s but one of thousands to taste brief glory, only to fade away into irrelevance and the perils of the punch clock, but is such a forced march to the hinterlands deserved? I say not. For during that endless summer at the height of President Reagan’s power and influence, J.G. stood proud as an unsung champion of what it means to be an 80’s Action character actor. His cause is the cause of all those who back-flip through obscurity as the grenades fall. He is the man who roars across the screen, bleeding or on fire, all in the hopes of being able to tell the grandchildren, “Look! There I am! Rewind that shit.” And so we will. For Joseph. Wherever he may roam.
Though a man of few words, Rodriguez is all action. He is the ultimate victim, but in the end, he satisfies a murderous craving equal to the eternally aggrieved Paul Kersey. Think of his introduction. He speaks, though only for his wife, who appears to be deaf, dumb, and mute. Or she simply can’t speak English. Still, she howls in pain during a brutal rape, so strike the mute part. He is charming, gracious, and though by all appearances a black man, his apartment is stuffed to the gills with Catholic symbols and statues, revealing the Mexican within. Though he could be Puerto Rican. As always, it does not matter. He is but a man, waiting for the right time to express himself as such. Before the fall, he is weak, untested, and lacking the proper accoutrements of an assassin. Having not the courtesy to escort his wife to the grocery, despite the store being found amidst the rubble and stench of a warzone, Rodriguez loses his beloved to a gang of thugs. And Bill S. Preston, Esq. She is manhandled, slobbered over, kidnapped, raped, and left for dead. The liberal, limp-wristed security guard left his post at precisely the wrong time, and now the perpetrators cannot be identified. Clearly, it’s up to Rodriguez. To quote another movie, “They fucked with the wrong Mexican.”
Still, he is allowed one last dance with his softer side. Though nervously concerned (and muttering, “They raped her…they raped her…”), his ride to the hospital after the assault is relatively smooth, as he is initially told only of “an injury.” A broken arm, perhaps. At least she’s alive. Upon arrival, however, the doctor casually informs him that the little lady “has expired” due to the catch-all “complications.” He reacts as if shot in the ass with a dart, then falls to a chair with inconsolable grief. His righteous fist pounds a table. The tears flow, but the rage soon builds. In her name, and for the sake of his masculine authority, he must avenge the loss. While Paul takes on more extreme weaponry (and a more disinterested tone), Rodriguez is armed only with a zip gun, which limits the range, but kills just as dead. And though sending far fewer scumbags to their rendezvous in hell, he blasts away with the glee of a schoolgirl skipping through an open field. Murder and cruelty have come easy, and throughout, he’s always just around the corner, ready to save the day if need be, or simply provide a life-affirming fist pump. But as an 80s Action icon, it’s the face that does the trick. His fatigue now a thing of the past, he is forever changed. A man of iron; a wiser, more callous thoroughbred of violence. And that is how he should be remembered, preserved on DVD as though in amber; a case study in phallic empowerment. The Everyman made whole through the gauntlet of death.