Thursday, 12 March 2015

Death Wish 4


Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Gail Morgan Hickman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, Dana Barron, Soon-Teck Oh & George Dickerson

After the loony excess of Death Wish 3 things were toned down for the fourth entry, The Crackdown. Toned somewhat would be more apt, as Death Wish 4 is still an over-the-top 80s action film that has more in common with the ultra violent action pictures of the decade than it does with the dark original film that spawned the franchise. Here, Bronson’s vigilante Paul Kersey goes to war against the drug cartels when the daughter of his new squeeze dies from an over dose of cocaine. Having dispatched the pusher that dealt the drugs to the girl in particularly violent fashion, Kersey believes all is done. However, rich weirdo Nathan White (Ryan) hires Kersey as his own personal vigilante to go after the two biggest drug empires in LA: his own daughter having succumbed to the evils of the drugs dealt by these cartels. Soon Kersey is dispatching slimy goons with efficiency  and setting the two cartels against one another (Yojimbo style!) but does White have ulterior motives and has Kersey got himself in over his head in his bad-guy-dispatching-shenanigans this time? 

Much like Part 3, Death Wish 4 jettisons the dark tone of the original two installments and instead focuses on over-the-top action scenes as Kersey is now turned into a one man army waging war against all bad guys. He is far from the quieter Kersey with a single small hand gun as seen in the first film but now a leather jacket wearing, M16-toting and James Bond gadget using super-vigilante. Bigger and badder, Kersey has got slaying bad guys down to a fine art and has all kinds of listening devices, super guns, hidden vaults complete with weapons arsenal (!) and, in one particular outrageous scene, exploding wine bottle gadgets. What the!!?? In the film’s most over-the-top scene, Kersey dispatches a young Danny Trejo (and some other goons) by serving them some fine wine from an exploding wine bottle! Despite the absurdness of this scene and several other ridiculous death scenes, Death Wish 4 is still an entertainingly balls out action film that delivers many scenes of firepower action and grenade launching explosions. Efficiently directed by J. Lee Thompson, Death Wish 4 sees Kersey become a one man vigilante war machine that decimates the LA drug trade in increasingly entertaining fashion. 

While this is a straight up 80s action film typical from the Cannon Films conveyor belt of the time and sadly dispenses Kay Lenz’s grieving-mother-attempts-to-investigate-the-drug-cartels subplot all too quickly, Death Wish 4 still has a slight nasty edge to it and benefits from Thompson’s lean direction. In fact, he opens the film with a prolonged and tension filled sequence of a women being stalked and attacked in an underground parking lot before Kersey’s vigilante hero shows up to rescue her, that is so well executed and tense it’s a pity the rest of the film didn’t stick with this vibe. The sequence even ends with Kersey seeing his own image in one of the attackers he has just slain, suggesting the emotional impact all the killing is having on him (and which is unfortunately not explored any further), making this scene the most effective bit of Death Wish vigilante style justice and its repercussions since the first film.

Instead Death Wish 4 is a serviceable and highly entertaining action film typical of the era that features all the explosions, Uzis, cheap-suit-wearing-goons and machine-gun-blasting-action any action movie/Bronson fan could want. That’ll do.

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