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Death Wish 4: The Crackdown
1987 - R - 99 Mins.
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Producer: Pancho Kohner, Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus
Written By: Gail Morgan Hickman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, Soon-Tek Oh
Review by: Jake Cremins
   

Bronson gears up for another mammoth production number in 'Death Wish 4,' a splashy musical version of Oscar Wilde's 'Lady Windermere's Fan.'
'Death Wish 4' is just another dumb action movie, which comes as something as a relief. After one good, thoughtful film and two appalling sequels (all three, incredibly, by the same director), this series seems to have at last settled into mere mediocrity, and I found myself welcoming it. Part of this is surely due to the presence of veteran J. Lee Thompson, who once directed such stuff as 'Guns of the Navarone' and 'Cape Fear.' Thompson's career has been on the skids for a few years now, and maybe 'Death Wish 4' is as bad as anything else he's been doing lately, but it's so immeasurably better than the sequels before it that I'm almost ready to trumpet it as his comeback.

There's nothing particularly original and inventive here; in fact, the premise—in which two crime organizations are turned against one another by a third party—seems to have been inspired by several viewings of 'Yojimbo' (or, given the intelligence level of the average Cannon production, 'A Fistful of Dollars'). Still, I do have to note that this one has a) an actual plot, b) some good action sequences, and c) a merciful lack of extended rape and murder scenes. Call me crazy: if I see someone get raped and beaten to death in a bad movie, I'm offended, but if I see three drug lords get blown up by an exploding wine bottle in a fancy Italian restaurant, I'm entertained. So it goes.

The story deals again with Paul Kersey, although by now his character has so little to do with himself in the original movie that they might as well start calling him Charles Bronson. Still, I liked an opening dream sequence in which we learn that decades of vigilantism have been giving his conscience trouble; it's nice to be reminded that he used to be a character who thought about things and felt emotions. Anyhow, Kersey has now moved back to Los Angeles and has yet another girlfriend, a reporter played by Kay Lenz, whose daughter ends up overdosing on cocaine and dying in the hospital.

I do not even have to tell you, of course, that Kersey reacts by deciding to go out and shoot as many drug dealers as possible. The script does provide an interesting wrinkle, though, in that he's asked to do this by someone else: early in the film an extremely wealthy old man calls on him and tells him his own sad story of a daughter killed by drugs. The man, obsessed, has compiled information about the two leading L.A. drug cartels, and he can afford all kinds of weaponry, but he's simply too frail to do the job himself. Kersey (cough) grudgingly accepts.

So, most of the movie deals with Kersey tracking down slimy drug kingpins left over from 'Scarface' and doing all kinds of numbers on them, from planting the exploding wine bottle to mowing one down using an Uzi with a silencer (I hadn't seen that before). What's missing, thankfully, is the pervasive sadism and cruelty that had begun to become the series trademark. Even when we get the big climax at—I'm delighted to say—a roller rink, the filmmakers tastefully avoid showing innocent bystanders being ventilated by automatic weapons fire. Compare this to the endless scene in 'Death Wish 3' where the nice married couple gets set on fire and then shot as they run screaming down their front stairs, and you can guess why I liked this one so much better.

The action is nothing special, but I haven't seen enough of this lately to be bored with it, I guess, and it worked for me. The gunfights are fast and well directed, and quite a few things explode nicely. You won't be repeating the dialogue on the way out of the theater, but one line ("I was making a sandwich") sounds off-the-cuff enough to get a good laugh. And there's a pretty big plot twist near the end which, while not being mind-blowingly unpredictable, shows that somebody was at least trying. (The movie blows a lot of suspense, however, in its use of Lenz's character, who starts investigating the drug trade for an article and is then forgotten for over an hour. Since she would obviously get into trouble deep and fast, we can tell the movie is avoiding her so she can be in danger just in time for the finale.)

What most of it boils down to, though, is that I just plain like Charles Bronson. It's really a shame that he's closed out his career with one braindead action movie after another, but I have yet to see him fully sleepwalk through a performance. Even when nothing in the script requires it, he keeps adding interesting little tones of realism to his dialogue, so that even when someone asks "Who are you?" and he replies "...Death," you believe it instead of giggling. And for someone now in his sixties, he remains a surprisingly credible action lead. Oh sure, it's funny to imagine him *actually* trying to knock a 200-pound man off a balcony, but listen to what he says to that man at the video store, and the way he says it. He sounds tough enough for me.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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