Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) – A Review


A review of the 1987 action sequel Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, starring Charles Bronson, John P. Ryan, Kay Lenz and Dana Barron

Death Wish 4 The Crackdown Charles Bronson 1987

Architect/vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is back yet again, and this time he’s focusing on dishing out violent justice towards drug pushers.

Kersey is haunted by his violent past and it appears he’s ready to leave it all behind. No, really!!! This time he’s really ready to move on! Give the guy the benefit of the doubt with in this one huh!

Once again things look relaxed and quaint for Kersey at the start (as it usually does at the start of all the Death Wish flicks). He’s got a nice quiet job, he’s dating pretty reporter Kay Lenz, her daughter Dana Barron really likes him. This is nice. It’s time to seriously retire from ‘the killing bad guy life’.

Until, what do you know – something pulls Kersey back in. Barron ends up dying from an overdose of crack cocaine. Her mom is determined to draw attention to the drug problem by using her hard-hitting prose at the newspaper she works at. Then Kersey gets a surprise request by someone who knows exactly who he is.

John P. Ryan (in a truly horrible looking toupee) is a millionaire tabloid publisher whose own daughter has died of a drug overdose as well. He knows exactly who Kersey is and his violent history. He wants to hire Kersey to wipe out the two main drug gangs in L.A. Ryan has all the information that Kersey needs, can supply him with any weapons he wants and they both will sleep soundly knowing the streets are cleaned up.

Death Wish 4 Crackdown 1987 Charles Bronson action movieSo, Bronson picks up his firearms once again to clean up the streets and punish the guilty! Are we at all surprised?

Director of all the previous Death Wish entries Michael Winner, who also directed Bronson in several other films outside the first three Death Wish films, got the boot for this entry. This time around J. Lee Thompson gets the directing duties. He also had a history of directing Bronson previously. Bronson appeared to have stuck with directors once he was happy working with them.

The budget for Death Wish 4 was lower than its predecessors, but Cannon Films did go the extra mile by adding a subtitle to this entry. This would be the third and final Death Wish film to be released by Cannon.

Bronson’s relationship with Cannon was a strange one. It was like a double-edged sword. Bronson was the studios biggest star and it presented him the opportunity to headline many films throughout the 1980’s and get regular paychecks. It was a an attractive opportunity for an actor in his sixties at the time. He was still working, playing the lead and maintaining his movie star aura.

Yet, the quality of those films were….well, not really that good. So, I guess that was the tradeoff for Chuck.

Death Wish 4 The Crackdown 1987 Charles Bronson Kay Lenz
Kay Lenz and Charles Bronson

I’ve read that Bronson wanted to do other types of roles and to stretch himself with better material, but he just never got the opportunity. He got pigeonholed as ‘the Death Wish guy’ and the only offers he would receive were low-grade action fare. They might’ve entertained his action fans, but Chuck wasn’t always happy with the end product.

So, Cannon kept Bronson in the spotlight, but he was unable to stray far from what they viewed as his only profitable cinematic screen image.

On the upside, there are action fans who loved these films and would continually watch them. Death Wish 4 was one of the first early home video releases and it ended up being the number one selling entry out of the whole franchise on VHS.

Death Wish 4 Crackdown 1987 lobby card Charles BronsonThe image of Bronson holding a bazooka on his shoulder on the VHS cover probably helped draw attention to it. Remember way back in the first Death Wish when Kersey armed himself with a small pistol? My oh my, how things have escalated.

As for the film itself, there are some very entertaining bits, but it’s the same cheapish quality you’d expect from a Cannon film. For some that might be enough.

It opens with a suspenseful scene in an ominous parking garage (that tried and trusted movie location to set a tense scene).

A woman is being attacked by three scary masked men, Bronson arrives. One of the attackers asks him, “Who the f*** are you?”, to which Bronson replies, “Death.” Then he shoots them down and wakes up. Yeah, it’s a cheat.

The story really kicks in after Bronson accepts Ryan’s offer and begins to systematically take out all these different drug baddies. He sneaks into their penthouses, plants phone bugs, interrupts their lunches by killing them, blows up their warehouses. He shoots up a backroom of a video store that’s a drug front.

Death Wish 4 Crackdown Cannon screening movie theater room cheap location
My theory – The Cannon screening room cheaply being used as an actual movie theater in the film

That particular scene looked like it was actually the Cannon offices to me. I can’t confirm that, but somehow it looked like it could have been one of their production offices and was just used as a cheap location to use and film in.

I have the same suspicion with a brief meeting scene between Bronson and Ryan at a ‘movie theater’. It appears to be a screening room. The ‘theater lobby’ looks like a hastily converted building lobby. They put a movie poster marquee on the side of a door, stuck a popcorn machine on a counter and just filmed the scene. It was probably the Cannon screening room in their building back then. Ah, that Cannon charm!

Can any Cannon fans confirm these suspicions?

Unlike previous Death Wish movies, this time Kersey is this unknown force to his victims. They don’t know who he is or why he’s doing this and suspect he’s working for the competing drug gang to take down the others business.

The story almost sounds like it will play out a bit like Yojimbo (which was indeed an inspiration for the script). Kersey will shake things up, the dueling drug gangs will suspect the other for causing this trouble and go at each other with Kersey goosing the conflict the whole time.

Charles Bronson Death Wish 4 The Crackdown 1987It doesn’t end up being as clever as that.

As silly as it all becomes there are some very fun low-grade action sequences. Bronson slips in and out of these dangerous situations with such ease, you can’t take it very seriously. He shoots up this fish factory where they’re smuggling drugs in. He sprays his uzi at a chorus line of baddies and plans to blow the place up with dynamite.

Before he can do that, he has to get through plenty of guys in suits carrying guns who try to stop him, but Chuck knocks them out quite easily. Even when an army of workers try to stop him, they’re easily outmatched by Bronson who manages to escape with great ease.

One thing that struck me while watching this were the bad guys who play all the disposable heavies. They all walk around with intense, serious looks on their faces. They all look like they came off the assembly line of ‘Bad Guys in Cheap Action Movies’.

It must have been a nice gig for all these guys landing an interchangeable bit part in a Bronson flick. All you had to do was look mean and get killed. Sign me up!

Charles Bronson Death WIsh 4 The Crackdown 1987 action movie

Finally lead drug baddie Perry Lopez gets wise of being played by someone. He meets with his drug competitor at an oil field for a meeting to explain the situation. It doesn’t go well.

With Kersey waiting in the wings he prompts a gun fight between the two gangs. Action fans get plenty of blood spurts, explosions and panicked bad guys running around. This is the stuff we’ve been waiting for!

After all his work Bronson gets his reward, a final confrontation with Lopez – the man whose drugs killed Barron. The scene plays a bit like the scene in How the West Was Won when Henry Fonda realizes who Bronson’s ‘Harmonica’ truly is. Although, it doesn’t have that same emotional impact exactly, but I see a similarity!

Lopez has no idea who Barron is, so when Bronson shows him her photo it’s no wonder the guy is completely confused. I doubt they intended this to be a bit of a call back to that classic western scene and it’s probably just me making that gracious connection.

At that point, you might think the film is going to fade out – but you’re treated to a bonus round of Bronson action!

Bronson discovers he was also being played all along. Ryan reveals himself to be another drug baddie too who’s been using Kersey to eliminate his competition! It was all a setup! Now there’s even more baddies Brosnan has to take care of. He must save the kidnapped Kenz who Ryan now has. He arms himself up and sets out to kill Ryan and all his thugs.

We head to another parking garage (probably the one for the Cannon building) and a roller rink (that would be odd if Cannon actually owned that place too, they probably had to spring some cash for renting it) for more gunfights with bad guys. Luckily Brosnan also has a grenade launcher on hand to use, which he does in a nice explosive final kill.

Charles Bronson Death Wish 4 Crackdown 1987 action sequelWith Death Wish 4 things once again get very silly in the series. The further away we got from the original film the loonier things got.

I have to admit there are parts of this that are just such cheesy dumb fun I end up really enjoying it.

Watching roller skaters stampeding from the melee of Brosnan having a shoot out with bad guys amidst rows of arcade games is pretty funny. It’s difficult to look away and not be entertained. The over-the-topness of some of the action makes it somewhat endearing. Action fans should find it a satisfying enough entry.

It might not reach the cult fun of Death Wish 3 that so many fans love, but Number Four is a surprisingly fun, action-filled followup.

It provides all you want from a Death Wish movie and it’s certainly never boring. Thompson keeps up the momentum and it hopscotches from different enough settings for Brosnan to eliminate baddies to keep up a nice variety of schlocky action. Then, there’s an unexpected moment that always surprised me towards the end. At least it surprised me when I first saw this.

Of course, the story is tripe and the characters are nothing interesting. They’ve been ripped from the pages of the low-grade action handbook. The actors just fill in the roles and don’t provide anything special to them. As with all the Death Wish films, there are police characters to lend to the drama and stakes, but this time their presence is more an afterthought and didn’t even need to be included. Even with a surprise twist from detective Soon-Tek who isn’t all that good of a guy –  “Oh he’s in cahoots with the baddies!” – it’s done so matter-of-factly it makes little difference in the story.

Death Wish 4 The Crackdown 1987 John P. Ryan bad guy
John P. Ryan

Bronson’s Kersey always seems to be on the verge of reigniting some romance with a lady until it all goes south. Lenz is his typical younger leading lady in this one and it’s kind of surprising how little a presence she is in this.

After her daughter dies you almost forget about her completely! Even her big crusade subplot to expose the drug problems in the press vanishes completely. She practically disappears entirely until she’s needed to be saved by Bronson.

Ryan gets the most opportunity to have some fun after his bad guy reveal happens. He gets to act fully villainous, yelling and shouting while wearing pretty ugly 80s clothes. But even then he’s not given enough time for us to really enjoy his hammy performance. If they were trying to send a message about the dangers of drug use with this movie, it gets buried under the action nonsense.

Death Wish 4 is low-grade cheese. It’s not as ludicrously entertaining as Death Wish 3. I don’t think any of the films in the series topped the outright cartoonish, glorious unintentional comedy of that flick. That one deserves all the accolades it gets.

Charles Bronson Death Wish 4 Crackdown 1987 bazooka gunFrom Death Wish 3 on, the series really started to become something different than from where it started as. If you compare Death Wish 4 to the ’74 original and view it as a movie that grew out of it, oh yeah it doesn’t have much in common with it, other than Bronson and bad guys.

However! If you view it as a sequel to the more looney camp entertainment of Death Wish 3, I’d categorize Death Wish 4: The Crackdown as a success.

That’s a a much different bar sure, but as a cheesy action entry with no higher expectations than seeing Bronson do his gun-toting action thing, yeah it can be awfully fun. It has all the standard action story clichés you’d expect and they’re not handled with any sort of finesse, but it speeds through them fast enough, it doesn’t weigh things down and allows you to get a chuckle from some of that classic Bronson action fans crave, which is there is plenty of.

I would rank Death Wish 4 above the second entry. Whereas as that sequel was just so darn grim, depressing and ugly, The Crackdown is more of a Saturday night popcorn-er that will fill an 80’s action need. It’s not great, but it manages to be an enjoyable schlocky time.


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