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Double Impact (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (1987)

Starring: Charles Bronson, John P. Ryan, Kay Lenz, Perry Lopez, George Dickerson, Soon-Tek Oh

Written By: Gail Morgan Hickman Directed By: J. Lee Thompson

The Short Version

Charles Bronson returns in a film that doesn’t exactly challenge his skills.

It does, however, fall into 80s action formula quite nicely.

Drug dealers get taken out in a variety of creative ways; what more do you want?

A riff on Kurosawa?  Okay; this flick can do that.

Just keep your brain in neutral, and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is satisfying midnight movie fare.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SWISS ALMOND SPREAD.

It’s highly processed, but it’ll do on a cracker for a snack.


Pairs Well With...

MILLER HIGH LIFE.

It’s cheap and it’s not exactly strong stuff, but it’ll do for a late night, and it goes down easily enough.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“Death!”


Those are the first lines spoken during Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, and they tell you pretty much all you need to know about the movie.

Specifically, they tell you that Cannon Films and Golan-Globus stopped trying two sequels ago… and that Charles Bronson is still going to show up and kick ass anyway.  For those who remember trolling through the video store or cruising the cable guide looking for a midnight movie, that’s called a fair trade.  Even if you don’t remember those things, it’s still a fair trade.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown finds Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson, The Evil That Men Do) back in Los Angeles, where he may or may not be pretending that Death Wish 3 never happened.  He’s settled in to the life of a normal architect who hasn’t shot anyone in at least two years, and he’s got a good relationship going with a local newspaper reporter named Karen (Kay Lenz, Stripped to Kill).  But when Karen’s teenage daughter (Dana Barron, National Lampoon’s Vacation) dies suddenly of a cocaine overdose, Kersey finds himself with a reason to be angry with drug dealing scumbags… and there’s a rich dude named Nathan White (John P. Ryan, Avenging Force) who’d like to point him in the direction of LA’s biggest players so he can do the most damage.

Looks like the old vigilante is back in business…

…with a qualifier on that “old vigilante” part, of course, because, as noted up top, Cannon and Golan-Globus aren’t really trying anymore.  The Paul Kersey presented to audiences in the original Death Wish (which was made by an entirely different studio) fifteen years before was a deep, realistic, well-crafted Everyman presented in dramatic style.  This iteration of Paul Kersey may be played by the same man and share the same origin story, but there’s nothing particularly deep and certainly not much that’s realistic about him.  A single revolver in a polished wooden case?  Bah.  This dude’s got an automatic with him at all times, along with a small armory hidden behind a false refrigerator in his kitchen, and instead of taking down a few muggers over the course of weeks, he takes out the two biggest drug cartels in Los Angeles in a matter of days.  Despite the bits of “loved ones in trouble” formula that aren’t exactly unique to the franchise anyway, this isn’t a really Death Wish movie; it’s a riff on Bronson’s character from The Mechanic, only sloppier.  (Seriously; Kersey doesn’t even try to cover his tracks here.)  The shaky script (and I do mean shaky; it was being rewritten daily while the film was shooting, though one imagines that borrowing from the same frame as Kurosawa’s Yojimbo must have made the job easier) is just a formality: an excuse to string together scenes wherein Charles Bronson gives the bad guys what’s coming to them.

In Golan-Globus speak, this is called “giving the audience what they want,” and, for the most part, it works.  (Let’s face it, who doesn’t like to see drug dealers and their minions get blown to pieces?)

This is why it doesn’t matter that Charles Bronson is pretty much just going through the motions here, because these are motions that he could perform in his sleep and still do an awesome job of it.  Who needs his best work when the bad guy he shoves out the high rise window does the work for him by screaming all the way down before splattering himself all over the hood of his own limo?  Similarly, an old school bundle of dynamite tossed into a drug lab does plenty of explosive acting on its own, and so does a trick wine bottle given to a gaggle of gangsters, for that matter.  All Bronson has to do to give weight the action is show up; director J. Lee Thompson, the effects crew, and the audience’s own predisposition to hate drug dealers take care of the rest.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is one of those formula action flicks that’s essentially entertaining by default for just about any genre fan… as long as one forgets the throwaway opening sequence.  It’s a throwaway for three reasons.  One, it’s a dream sequence, and that’s always a horrible way to start a movie.  Two, it really has nothing to do with the story save to suggest that Kersey secretly wonders if being a vigilante has made him a monster… which is the very sort of psychological depth that the rest of the flick doesn’t give a damn about.  Three, it hinges on a rape – one that isn’t quite allowed to happen, but close – which is never appealing to any sane person, and which is the one thing that keeps many viewers away from this franchise in the first place.  Overall, the scene just doesn’t have to be there, and if there’s one factor that keeps Death Wish 4: The Crackdown from reaching “automatic party in a box” status, that’s it.

Because otherwise, the oil field turkey shoot, the roller rink fracas, and the final shot taken at the film’s ultimate villain are definitely midnight action movie party material.

And for those who like to toss in a few party games, there are at least three rounds of “spot the future star” to be played here.  “Star Trek” Voyager” fans are sure to recognize the movie’s most prominent street dealer; he’s played by Tim Russ, soon to don some pointed ears as Mr. Tuvok.  For the “X-Files” crowd, the supervisor at the fish cannery/drug plant is none other than Skinner himself, Mitch Pileggi.  And for those who don’t bother with television and just stick to action movies, one of the thugs in the restaurant scene is easily recognizable as good old Machete – Danny Trejo.

Bottom line, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown doesn’t exactly break new ground, nor is it all that deep of a movie.  But with the exception of a single scene that’s easily skipped by stepping into the kitchen to pour a drink right after pressing “play,” it is a highly entertaining piece of good old fashioned 1980s action.  Grab the snacks, put your brain in neutral, and just watch the bad guys get what’s coming to them.  There are certainly worse ways to kill an hour and a half.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014


More From The Bar! | Double Impact | Licence To Kill | Marked for Death |



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