• Judging by the explosive critical and box-office reaction, DEATH WISH has succeeded in touching a raw nerve in American society. The plot is disarmingly simple: A man's wife is killed and his daughter driven insane by a gang of muggers, and to avenge them he becomes a vigilante, baiting muggers on the streets of New York City and then shooting them to death, as the audience cheers. But the movie itself is well-crafted and complex; it is not a crude attempt at exploitation of urban paranoia, and despite its portrayal of the vigilante as hero, it is not one-sided. Charles Bronson stars as a pacifist and former conscientious objector who makes a decent living as an architectural consultant. When his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter (Kathleen Tolan) are beaten and raped in their own apartment by a thoroughly vile and scummy gang of muggers, Bronson is emotionally wiped out. His employer sends him to work on a project in Tucson, hoping to take his mind off his wife's death. But the frontier atmosphere induces subtle changes in Bronson's outlook on life. He returns to New York and begins systematically wiping out muggers, while a police investigative unit, headed by Vincent Gardenia, tries to find him and put a stop to his activities. The movie is obviously slanted in favor of Bronson's one-man crusade; opposing points of view are presented, not as evil, but simply as ineffectual. The police are hamstrung by rules and regulations (many policemen secretly admire what Bronson is doing), and the liberal philosophy seems helpless in dealing with the hoodlums and smalltime terrorists who infest the city. As in the recent television movie, Outrage, taking the law into one's own hands is seen as a last resort, but one that, given certain conditions, can be justified. The film makes its statement powerfully and persuasively; and judging by the favorable and highly emotional audience response, Death Wish is a movie that has long been overdue. Rated "R."

• THE GROOVE TUBE, a satire on American television, is a series of comedy sketches ranging from very good to perfectly awful. Much of the material is crude and sophomoric, with the longest sequences somehow turning out to be the dullest. Highlights include a clown reading Fanny Hill to the kiddies, after the grown-ups have left the room; a scholarly talk show that slowly disintegrates as coffee and sandwiches are passed around; and the "international sex games," which are described in lurid detail by the announcer as the television set keeps losing its video signal. Low-lights include an adventure series, "The Dealers," about two drug pushers who can't seem to get it on; the seven o'clock news, which isn't nearly as funny as the real thing; and an icky glue commercial that must be avoided to be appreciated. Overall, The Groove Tube is a mixed bag; whether the flashes of humor outweigh the film's overall bad taste is questionable. Rated "R."

• THE GIRL FROM PETROVKA is an offbeat, humorous and finally very touching love story, played out against the alien, hostile background of contemporary Russia. Hal Holbrook plays a sardonic, wisecracking American journalist stationed in Moscow, while Goldie Hawn portrays the Russian equivalent of a "free spirit" with a feverish intensity that contrasts sharply with her usual brand of kookiness. Their improbable affair starts off as a battle of wits, as his flippant attitude is matched and finally breached by her unrestrained flights of fancy. Imperceptibly the movie takes on a more serious tone as she risks their developing relationship and her own personal safety to help a talented musician friend escape to freedom in western Europe. The tone of the movie is totally and explicitly anti-communist, a rarity in this alleged age of "detente." Moscow is shown as a joyless place, where foreign clothes are auctioned off within decaying churches, Western music can be played only behind locked doors and shuttered windows, and the lack of work papers brands one as a "parasite" and can result in a stiff prison sentence. The script, by Allen Scott and Chris Bryant and based on George Feifer's book, is a bit drawn out during the first half of the movie, but comes together with mounting interest and suspense during the remainder. The supporting cast, ably headed by Anthony Hopkins and Gregoire Aslan, provides a sense of continuity as the characters of Holbrook and Hawn grow and change under each other's influence. The Girl From Petrovka is an exceptional film, and very much worth seeing. Rated "PG."