Kevin: We’re closing out our breakdown of the murderous adventures of architect Paul Kersey with “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown,” which was the last in the series produced by the Cannon Group before legendary schlockmeisters Golan and Globus parted ways. First though they parted with original series director Michael Winner after he had a falling out with Charles Bronson during the filming of “Death Wish 3;” taking his place would be former “Guns of Navarone” director J. Lee Thompson, who had already directed the star in several pictures such as “10 to Midnight,” “The Evil That Men Do,” and “Murphy’s Law.” Let’s see how having some new blood behind the scenes affected this bloodthirsty franchise, as Kersey returns to a familiar location in 1987’s “Death Wish 4”:
Where is Paul Kersey now? Obviously inspired by Randy Newman’s hit song “I Love L.A.” …
… Kersey has returned to Los Angeles after probably considering places like Beirut, Mogadishu, and Detroit, and deciding they were too dangerous even for him.
How long does he get to enjoy some happiness and normalcy in his life before it is all ripped away? A new record, 13 minutes! Unfortunately we never find out what movie he and his girlfriend were planning on seeing before tragedy strikes, but I have a feeling it may have been the rare critically acclaimed Cannon film “Runaway Train,” considering Kersey later chooses a theater showing it as a meeting place. While the theater is obviously less than packed, there are still way more people than when CJ caught “Solo” opening weekend.
Which family members and/or friends does he have to avenge? His girlfriend’s daughter Erica, who dies off-screen after overdosing on cocaine. Not only does Kersey pretty much sign her death warrant when he says, “I feel toward her like she were my own daughter,” but we know she is a goner as soon as we see that this is the guy she is dating:
Which scum of the earth find themselves on the receiving end of Kersey’s vigilante justice, and is a future recognizable actor among their ranks? Stay with me here, because this one gets much more complicated than any other “Death Wish.” So after Erica dies, Kersey quickly finds and kills the guy who gave her the drugs. So the movie is over, right? Nope, because soon after this Kersey is taken to the mansion of tabloid publisher Nathan White, who tells Kersey that he knows all about his secretive vigilante life and wants to use his skills to take out the two biggest drug gangs in Los Angeles, as revenge for the overdose of White’s own daughter recently.
So using White’s considerable resources, Kersey does his own version of “Yojimbo” by killing various members of each gang and making it look like the other side was responsible. Eventually this leads to a showdown in which the two gangs kill each other off, so now the movie is over, right?
Not so fast! It turns out that the man who has been supplying Kersey with information and weapons was not the real Nathan White, but is instead ANOTHER drug lord who has been using Kersey to take out his enemies and thus have a monopoly on the drug trade in L.A. And how exactly was he able to fool Kersey so badly? Well he waited until the real White was out of town, then snuck into his mansion and pretended it was his when meeting Kersey (I’d like to believe he went “oh shit” and had to turn over some framed photos of the real White right before Kersey walked in). And that’s apparently all Kersey needed to sign up for war against the drug cartels. Not only did he not know what one of the richest and most powerful men in his own city actually looked like, but he didn’t do even a little bit of research into his background. I used to think Jeff from “The Perfect Weapon” was the world’s most gullible action hero, but Kersey in this comes pretty close.
And yes there is a future star among the bad guys who I will discuss more below, while the film also features brief appearances by Mitch Pileggi from “The X-Files” …
… and Mark Pellegrino from “Capote,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Supernatural”:
What is Kersey’s weapon of choice? Pistols, Uzis, rocket launchers, exploding wine bottles; he even electrocutes a guy by throwing him on the roof of a bumper-car ride.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a shithole is the city Kersey is currently residing in? A 2 at the most; this version of L.A. is night-and-day safer and cleaner-looking than the one a few years earlier from “Death Wish II,” and most of the violence we see occurs between the two gangs and doesn’t impact innocent civilians. In fact, while most “Death Wish” films use morning radio reports to give us exposition about how bad the crime is in their various cities, this is all we hear at the beginning of “Death Wish 4”: “Traffic on the 101 is extremely light heading into downtown Los Angeles. You can expect clear skies with temperatures in the high 80s, about 10 degrees warmer in the San Fernando Valley.”
1) The idea that traffic going into downtown Los Angeles is light obviously marks this as a bigger fantasy than “Harry Potter,” and 2) Man I feel sorry for those poor bastards in the Valley.
Does he have a love interest, and does she survive until the end of the film? The aforementioned girlfriend, played by Kay Lenz, who works as a reporter for the Los Angeles Tribune, which apparently is competing with the L.A. Chronicle from “Tango and Cash” over who can publish the most articles that have nothing to do with their headlines. For instance, the first paragraph of her blockbuster piece “After Battering Regaining Self Esteem” reads thusly: “A suggestion that public hearings be limited to one every six months was taken under advisement by the commission.”
Unfortunately she doesn’t get to collect the Pulitzer that she was assuredly going to receive for such eloquent prose, as she is machine-gunned in the back right at the very end, leaving Kersey single and ready to mingle once again ladies! I have a feeling a lot of Lenz’s role was left on the cutting-room floor, because outside of the opening of the film, she and Bronson barely interact (there are no “Death Wish II”-style scenes of Kersey trying to hide his vigilante activities from her), while a subplot about her using her reporter skills to expose L.A.’s drug gangs goes nowhere.
How worthless are the cops and justice system? As usual, the cops are more concerned with catching the vigilante who is doing way more than they are to stop crime in the city. But worse than being incompetent, one of the two detectives tracking Kersey is actually working for one of the drug cartels, and he tries to kill Kersey in his office before Kersey gets the drop on him and shoots him through his blueprints.
Does Kersey still have zero problem living in a house/apartment where someone close to him was murdered and/or raped? Not an issue, as Erica’s death occurred outside the house, and either way I don’t think we ever see Kersey’s house in this one anyway.
Does Kersey let his extracurricular activities affect his work? Maybe the reason we never see him at home is because he is spending so much time at the office. Seriously, when he is not staging and executing intricate plans that will destroy a long-standing truce between the two most powerful drug cartels in the city, Kersey can usually be found finishing up a proposed new downtown retail/residential complex. Not only does he murder a guy in his office, I bet he cleaned up the blood, disposed of the body, and still killed it (no pun intended) at the next morning’s meeting with a potential client.
This would be impressive enough without the fact that at various times, Kersey’s plans also call for him to impersonate a member of a catering staff, a wine salesman, and a cannery worker. Actually he wasn’t even impersonating a caterer, he managed to get hired by the company doing the catering for a party at a drug lord’s mansion despite the fact that he is in his early 70s and with no previous catering experience on his resume. Who says you can’t switch careers after a certain age?
Best kill: Normally I’d go with the death by rocket launcher of the main bad guy at the end, but since Kersey already did that in “Death Wish III,” I’ll go with the exploding wine bottle killing of three drug lords (including one played by Danny Trejo). While I find it impressive that Kersey manages to turn them into obvious mannequins right before the explosion, man does he really not know how to improv his way out of a tight spot:
Best one-liner: Not much to choose from, maybe when a mugger asks, “Who the fuck are you?,” and Kersey responds: “Death.”
Overall consensus: Let’s celebrate a historic event in the “Death Wish” franchise: no is raped in part 4! Actually one woman is threatened at the beginning, but even then it turns out to be a dream. Maybe that, along with the fact that “Death Wish 4” is closer in spirit to a cheesy ‘80s action flick than a sleazy ‘70s revenge drama, is why I prefer it to the other sequels in the series. The action is relentless and well-shot, Bronson is more engaged than in the last couple of films, and it’s the first movie in the franchise where you don’t feel the need to take a “Silkwood” shower (look it up, millennials) after watching it.
It does end on a bummer note with the death of yet another love interest for Kersey, but even after a brief period of mourning and blowing up her killer with a rocket launcher, I bet Kersey will be back in the office the next day working on some blueprints, hitting the singles bars later that night, and then gunning down some muggers on the way home. You can’t keep the man down.