Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

*. A woman walks through an empty parking garage and is attacked by a gang of masked hoods. She is thrown to the ground and raped. Then, in silhouette, a hero appears who pulls a gun and blows the punks away. Or were they creeps? I’m not sure what the correct word was at the time.
*. And yet, before you can say “Oh shit, here we go again,” Paul Kersey awakes from this (bad?) dream. Has this cliché ever been more welcome?
*. I hadn’t seen Death Wish 4: The Crackdown before now. I’d seen Death Wish 3 around the time it came out and gave up on the series then. Too bad, as this is the best of the movies since the original Death Wish, and in fact is in most ways a far more enjoyable experience than that film. Which just goes to show there’s hope even for the most dismal of franchises.
*. Not that Death Wish 4 is a great movie. It isn’t. But it is a lot better than the dead-cat bounce I was expecting after Death Wish 3.
*. There are several reasons why it’s better. The biggest, however, is that it has an actual story to tell and not just a formula to follow. To be sure, once again Paul Kersey has hooked up with a new woman, who has a daughter, and both will die. There is even the obligatory hospital scene where the doctor comes out to tell him the bad news. I had thought, for just a moment, that the love interest was going to be rescued at the end but . . . no such luck. That much is formula.
*. Also formula, I might add, is the fact that there is the same age gap between Bronson and the actress playing his love interest as there was in the previous movie, a whopping 32 years. What’s even more surprising is that in Deatwh Wish V his new paramour, Lesley-Anne Down, would be a year younger!
*. I can understand the women falling for Kersey’s quiet machismo and professional success, but shouldn’t Kersey know by now that in getting involved with these ladies he’s effectively handing them a death sentence? When do you realize that you’re just never going to be lucky in love, and you owe it to these women to stay single?
*. The story here is not the usual vigilante hunt through the streets of New York or L.A. Instead, Kersey is drawn into a turf war between two rival drug gangs, orchestrated by a third party with his own agenda. They actually had Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars in mind as a model. In other words, this is a movie with a real honest-to-goodness plot.

*. Also interesting is the use of new locations. We aren’t in the street any more but visiting a drug lab fronting as a fish processing factory, an oil field overlooking L.A., and finally a disco roller-derby rink. What’s even better is that the gunfights and kills have some imagination too. They actually use squibs, for one thing, instead of just having the bad guys jump in the air when they’re supposedly shot. We also see a bad guy electrocuted on the power grid for a bumper car ride, and another one getting his head shoved into a television. A whole trio of hit men are blown up by an exploding wine bottle in a restaurant. This is almost fun.
*. I wouldn’t say J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear, and, oddly enough, Happy Birthday to Me) does a great job directing, but he’s miles ahead of Michael Winner, who did the first three films. Just the fact that Thompson uses a zoom to some effect on a few occasions is a welcome sign that he at least knows what he’s doing.
*. Great moments in subtitling: When Nathan White asks one of his flunkies where the girl is he’s told that she’s “in the powder room.” At least that’s what the subtitles say. What is actually said, clearly, is that she’s in the power room. That’s sexist subtitling! Or something.
*. Sadly, despite marking a significant improvement on earlier episodes, Death Wish 4 lost money, effectively shutting the franchise down until the belated bomb Death Wish V in 1994, when they were back to using Roman numerals in the title and Bronson was 71. Then, nearly twenty-five years later, it would be Bruce Willis’s turn. At almost the same age Bronson was in this film. The difference? Willis would be only eight years older than Elisabeth Shue, the actress playing his wife.

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