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Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

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After the believable psychological drama of Death Wish, the unpleasant ‘track-the-rapists-and-kill-em’ of "Death Wish II" and the comic-book genius of "Death Wish 3", what could the series do next? To quote Leo Kessler in Ten To Midnight, “I’ll give you a hint” – Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. Can you guess what the theme is in this instalment? Go on, have a guess... Yep, it’s DRUGS. Geddit? The Crackdown!

This is about as subtle as it gets. That’s not to say that it’s awful – it’s actually pretty good, although the credit ‘A Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus Production’ may not fill you with high expectations. Here’s what happens.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), our rather confusingly motivated hero from Death Wish (pts. 1-3), is back in LA again, after New York in Death Wish 1, LA in Death Wish II and New York again in Death Wish 3.

There’s a pattern emerging here, I feel. He hasn't killed anyone for a while, so we are led to believe, but still dreams about doing so (in a fantastic opening sequence). Anyway, he’s taken up with Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz), a young(ish) lady who works for a newspaper. Take a good look at her now, while she's onscreen – after the first 20 minutes she won’t reappear in the film until the grand finale.

Karen has a young daughter (played by Dana Barron, the same actress who played Audrey Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation) who has a boyfriend - Randy - with a nice car. They go off to the local hangout where the ‘kids’ play video games and drive bumper cars. And, for the purposes of this film, buy small amounts of ridiculously potent cocaine.

Rather predictably, the daughter dies of an overdose. After all, she’s somehow (no matter how tenuously) connected to Charles Bronson, and the first two words of the film’s title is ‘Death Wish’. I couldn't see her making it to the end credits, and I don’t think this is an entirely unexpected plot turn.

Randy goes back to the video game place (with Kersey following him) and confronts the dealer, telling him that he’s going to the police. The dealer kills him – and then Bronson kills the dealer. This is a pretty 'cool' death as deaths in film go – he gets shot above the bumper cars and falls onto the electrified ceiling, kicking up lots of sparks.

Next, Kersey gets a note and a phone call from Nathan White (an impressively deadpan John P. Ryan), who tells him that he knows about the murder of the dealer. It turns out that White’s wife died, and his daughter became his ‘whole life’. Then she became addicted to drugs and died. White wants to use Kersey as a hitman to wipe out the drug trade in LA and in particular, to target the two main suppliers of Cocaine to LA, Ed Zacharias (Perry Lopez in an alarmingly eye-rolling portrayal of a drug lord) and Jack Romero (the more subdued Mike Moroff). White will supply Kersey with weapons and information – is he up for it? Although Kersey asks for a few days to think about it, you can bet your sweet remote control that he IS up for it!

And that leads us to the main section of the film – a 66 year-old Bronson running about in various guises, killing bad guys. What did we expect? Well, there are more inventive deaths this time around than the simple shootings of the last three parts - slamming heads in the boots of cars, mowing down with a silenced Uzi, chucking packs of cocaine at them, death by explosive wine bottle, death by plummeting off a balcony onto your own limousine... The possibilities are almost endless.

But amongst the video-game style carnage, there are a few simple but great scenes – the bit where Kersey, pretending to be a busboy, sees a murder while hiding in the bathroom; the section where he throws the fella off his own balcony, only to land on his own limo; the oil-refinery shoot out, with heads going through car windows and all sorts happening and the drug factory shoot-out.

A great comedy scene is the one where Kersey gives the thugs in the restaurant a free bottle of wine (but it’s an explosive one!). The exchange that comes afterwards is fantastic – “My brother lives in Idaho. Which town are you from?” “Boise.” Silly dialogue aside, including the section where one character refers to the original Death Wish events as taking part in 1975(?) and Nathan White's tremendously overblown narration, a good action sequence comes along every few minutes to keep the target audience interested.

Remember, by this point (1987), the box office draws were Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mel Gibson, to name but three. This is what the filmmakers had to compete with, so you have to understand that they were looking for a new audience from the previous three films. Anyway, even the target audience of the first film would be 13 years older than they were when they first encountered Kersey onscreen.

After some pretty inventive plot twists - well, for the Death Wish films - it all ends in a typical Death Wish fashion, with a rocket launcher (I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that). Very entertaining!

Verdict?

Although you may feel that I’m being just faintly sarcastic in this review, this film is pretty good. It keeps you watching, and it has some good twists too.

I won’t give them away, but they inject more life into this film than the previous two in the series. Unfortunately some of the action sequences are pretty silly, you can see various effects while they take place and many of the bad guys fall down/react to the gunfire a couple of seconds after being shot (rather than when they actually GET shot, which I would normally expect). But it’s reasonably stylish (with more sense of style than Michael Winner, anyway) as directed by J. Lee “Ten To Midnight” Thompson, although the editing is pretty poor (by Peter Lee "my dad is the director" Thompson).

My favourite bad guy death (aside from the bumper cars) is the fella who is shot in the head, then turns around and opens a gate onto the roller-skating rink at the end – in the process taking out a couple of skaters as the gate swings open and he falls in their way.
Great stuff.

As far as comparison to the other Death Wish films goes, this instalment is more action packed than the first one, less unpleasant than the second, and more believable than the third. The Death Wish films aren't judged by conventional means, though, so draw your own conclusions. Overall, it's an upturn from Death Wish 3 as far as 'professionalism in film' goes, but less fun as a result. Still, it's pretty good.

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Enjoyable, reasonable plot twists, good action (in parts), enjoyably hammy acting. Also - an excellent opening sequence (until Bronson turns the final body over).

Weaknesses? It's badly edited, features some obvious fake effects, and sometimes the action is badly handled.

Our rating: 7.9 out of 10


Review Written by Jimmy Green:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Jimmy Green
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown