Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Recent Watches: Death Wish 4

The Death Wish franchise continues to evolve. The first two were crime-thrillers with action elements. The third was a bat-shit crazy, over-the-top action-extravaganza. “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown” seems to strike a balance between the two tones. It’s definitely a straight-up action film but it’s only somewhat ridiculous.

The film opens with a Bronson in its natural environment: In an isolated parking garage, filling creeps full of holes. The movie actually takes its time revealing Charlie. Instead, we follow an innocent women being sexually assaulted in her car by a trio of magically appearing thugs. (I’m beginning to think Michael… I mean, J. Lee Thompson has some issues with women.) The opening scene is quickly revealed to be a dream. Paul Kersey is back in LA and retired from killing creeps. He’s gone back to designing houses and has a much younger girlfriend with a teenage daughter. Because this was the “Just Say No” era, there was a different threat to the white, upper-middle class instead of random street crime: D.R.U.G.S. Expectantly, the daughter dies of a very sudden cocaine overdose, forcing Kersey to shoot her dealer onto the electric roof of a bumper car rink. He is quickly subcontracted by a millionaire with a similar grudge against the drug business. Ol’ Paul pulls a “Yojimbo” by playing LA’s two biggest drug cartels against each other. How does he do this?: By killing lots of people.

Stylistically, the film is quite different in other ways from previous three. J. Lee Thompson has a very different directorial style then Michael Winner. Winner’s style, while not flat, was pretty frills-free. Thompson, on the other hand, does some more stuff. The dude loves his dolly shots, dramatic pans, and zoom-ins. Overall, LA is a little more atmospheric looking then it was back in part II. Bronson himself is much more physical this time. He gets into three or four close-quarters hand-to-hand fights. Previous films usually limited him to standing, shooting, and occasionally stepping behind something. Here he does more fighting, running, and whacking people in the face with a lunchbox. Kind of impressive considering he was nearly seventy at the time.

Given the series’ history, I really expected this one to involve Kersey gunning down street-level drug-dealers, regular crack peddlers. Instead, he’s actually after crime families, high-ranking Mafiosos in grey suits. While it kind of removes the series’ central gimmick, it also removes a lot the uncomfortable, unpleasant elements that especially haunted the last film. Instead of being a conservative revenge fantasy, the movie instead becomes a typical Charles Bronson action flick. And a pretty badass one too. He raids a drug lab set inside a fish processing plant. He blams away some crocks with an Uzi in the back of a video rental store. (Its walls covered with posters for other Cannon movies, no doubt intentionally.) He tosses a guy off a high-rise apartment. While the two crime families blast away at each other, Bronson picks off select baddies with a sniper rifle. The film’s big climax takes place in a roller disco/video arcade with Kersey sporting an assault rifle / grenade launcher combo. He gets a few cool one-liners in too. There’s even a plot twist at the turn of the second act. It’s not hard to figure out considering it comes after all the story lines are seemingly wrapped up and there’s still twenty minutes of run time left, but I still appreciate the effort to fix the formula up.

But what about the ridiculousness I mention earlier? This movie does indeed have some hilarious moments. A group of cops are apparently unable to drive with a light-weight plastic grate pushed onto them. The resulting car crash kills them but, everyman Paul Kersey long since becoming an indestructible superhero, he crawls away unharmed. He also apparently keeps his arsenal behind his refrigerator. You noticed I haven’t mention Kersey’s girlfriend in three paragraphs. That’s because she shows up at the beginning and is completely forgotten about until the very end. In a shocking plot twist that should surprise absolutely nobody watching the movie, it doesn’t end well for her. The best is saved for last. Prompted by the umpteenth death of a loved one, Kersey turns his wrath on the movie’s final boss, in a death scene that made me laugh for like a solid minute.

No, it’s not sophisticated viewing. I mean, no shit, it’s not sophisticated viewing. But as far as brainless eighties action goes, it’s pretty damn satisfying. And I have way less liberal guilt about enjoying it. Of course, Kersey gets away with everything at the very end. At this point, the series barely recognizes what he’s doing is against the law. However, and maybe it’s just me, the ending can’t help but make me think that, as in Brian Garfield’s original novel, the titular wish of death is actually beginning to refer to our main character’s desire to end it all, and not the hordes of faceless thugs unintentionally committing suicide-by-Bronson. Don’t worry, readers, dis ain’t ova. (7/10)


He hadn’t yet established himself as one of the most famous heavies in the industry (and something of a modern Bronson figure himself), but Danny Trejo was on his way to that status with his part in this film, his first speaking role. He plays an Italian gangster (!) named Art. (!!) He gets killed by an exploding wine bottle.

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