The best scene of fourth entry in the seemingly never ending Death Wish series is right at the beginning. In a wonderfully shot scene full of suspense and mystery a young woman is raped by three men wearing panties in a parking garage when suddenly a man dressed in black appears from the shadows. When the rapists yell “who are you?” to the unknown assailant he slyly responds with “death” before unloading his gun on them. It’s Paul Kersey of course in a scene which turns out to be a dream sequence. Apparently all the years of vigilantism have taken a toll on Kersey who seems to have some issues with his previous occupation. Sadly this will be the only time the movie will delve into the psyche of Kersey as he’s running around killing drug dealers and drug lords for the remainder of the movie.
Death Wish 4, which comes with the subtitle The Crackdown, sees a change in the way Kersey is utilized albeit only a small one. Kersey has apparently given up on vigilantism and gone back to being an architect in L.A. He has his own firm now and a lovely girlfriend who he has been dating for two years. He also has a good relationship with her teenage daughter Erica, but as we have gotten used to by now: being close to Kersey means that your screen time will probably be limited to the first 10 minutes and such is the case for Erica who dies of a drug overdose right after being introduced. Kersey responds to her death the same way he has been responding to all the deaths of his close ones the past three movies: he goes out to execute his own brand of justice. He quickly does away with the dealer responsible for selling her the drugs, but by using the same gun he used in the vigilante killings he sets two detectives on his trail. The aforementioned change comes when a millionaire newspaper publisher contacts Kersey and offers him information on the two cartels running the area and supplies him with the means to take these cartels down by himself. Insert two twists and you have somewhat of a fresh take on a franchise that has slowly become stale.
Is there any 4th movie in a franchise that is could be considered good? Friday The 13th had a good part 4 but it’s surrounded by examples of proving otherwise: Jaws 4, Critters 4 and Leprechaun 4 are considered terrible. Even more recent releases like the 4th Pirates of the Caribbean movie are met with a lukewarm reception. The only notable exception seems to be the franchises that are based on a series of books like the Harry Potter movies. Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting a great movie, but until now the Death Wish movies had been fun to watch no matter how weak the scripts were.
Death Wish 4 is no exception as it features Kersey once again as a one man army, this time capable of taking out two drug cartels by playing them both. It’s fun to see Kersey use his wits and tricks to take them out, but at 65 and having played this role three times before Bronson sleepwalks through his role. It’s becoming more obvious with every installment. He delivers his lines with the least amount of interest needed, being fully aware of the fact that he’s not making a potential award winning movie. Bronson knows he’s in a B-movie and is obviously only in it for the work and the accompanying paycheck.
Another change in the way Death Wish 4 sets itself apart from the previous movies is the lack of sexual violence. Aside from the opening scene, which contains no real nudity, Death Wish 4 focuses more on violence between men. Kersey fights and shoots through a small army of men like most other 80s action movies, making Death Wish 4 more reminiscent of movies like Commando than the franchise it is a part of. Since I never truly appreciated the graphic violence against women in this series I can only applaud the more tasteful approach.
I never thought I would be using the word “tasteful” in a review of a movie about a guy killing drug dealers.
In Death Wish 4 the 80s are perfectly summarized; arcade halls, roller-skate rinks and crack cocaine are just a few of the elements making this movie clearly a product of its time. There is hardly a political undertone here, other than the war on drugs, though throughout the movies one element stays the same: a one armed man can do a better job at cleaning up the streets than the police. By making Kersey almost as underdeveloped as the majority of the characters Arnold Schwarzenegger plays, they pave the way for another entertaining 95 minutes of Bronson taking names.
By shifting the focus to drug cartels and thereby on all the nasty things they do, they make it easier to root for Kersey. Because the punks and muggers in previous entries were over the top in their sadistic villainy, it was easy to root for Kersey as he was killing them. But Kersey’s vigilantism only has one outcome for the people on the other side of the barrel: death. Kersey is a walking death squad, a humanization of the death sentence. In Death Wish 3 he shot a purse snatcher in the back with a gun that could be used for big game hunting. The guy needed to be caught, but does stealing a purse really justify being shot in the back by a gun that can take out an elephant? Because these sequels are pure exploitative entertainment it’s easy to cheer for Kersey, but by using so much lethal force on relatively small offenses makes the cops trying to nail him the actual good guys of these movies.
I expected Death Wish 4: The Crackdown to be terrible, but what I got was enjoyable violent romp that is still very entertaining. Bronson might not bring the same intensity to the role as hey did in the original Death Wish, but his screen presence is undeniable. As a bonus the script also incorporates two twists of which one people might see coming but the other caught me by surprise. 4 movies and they still know how to surprise the audience: that’s a feat especially considering this is just a low budget movie.