Shitty Movie Sundays: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions pictures what life is like in American cities, I think he might be picturing the world of Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. From 1987, this movie plays as both nightmare and caricature of urban America in the 1980s. It’s a place where anyone, at any time, can be the victim of a brutal crime. It’s a good thing that Charles Bronson was still alive and kicking at the time, otherwise none of us would have made it out of that decade alive.

From screenwriter Gail Morgan Hickman and director J. Lee Thompson, Death Wish 4 sees Bronson return as Paul Kersey, mild-mannered architect turned vigilante. Kersey was turned into an avenging angel following the rape and murders of his wife and daughter in the first film. Since then, many screenwriters had found a way to make Kersey’s life miserable, just when it looked like he would be able to live normally.

Kersey has his own architectural firm in Los Angeles, and a pretty girlfriend, Karen (Kay Lenz). But Kersey continues to insist on living in a city, and we all know it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens. That bad thing happens to Karen’s daughter, Erica (Dana Barron). She’s a typical teenager, in that she does all right in school, has friends, and dabbles in drugs. She’s not smoking grass out behind the auto shop after school, however. She’s into cocaine. After a bad batch kills her, Kersey decides it’s time to clean up the streets.

He doesn’t go about things without a little help, though. A mysterious rich fellow by the name of Nathan White (John P. Ryan) has also suffered because of drugs — losing his own daughter to an overdose. White has been gathering intelligence on LA’s most notorious drug lord, Ed Zacharias (Perry Lopez). He knows that Kersey is a killer, and points him in the direction of all the bad guys. It’s Death Wish 4convenient for both Kersey and for us, doing away with a whole bunch of potential scenes where Bronson isn’t killing anyone. That’s solid filmmaking. But that’s about it.

The rest of this film is absurd. It’s not like the urban landscape was an unknown quantity by 1987, but the filmmakers chose not to explore any of it realistically. It’s not just the crime. Urban culture has been excised completely and replaced by Tim Russ in a slim tie. He plays this film’s vision of a street dealer, and he’s quite far from what viewers get in something like The Wire. It’s not his fault. Everything about this film exists like the fever dreams of a rural Republican voter. Expecting an honest exploration of crime, from an era when it really was a pressing problem, by the way, is beyond this flick’s purview. This film is about Charles Bronson kicking ass. Considering he was 66 years old when this flick was released, it’s all the more impressive.

This movie is also amazingly obtuse when it comes to drugs. It’s the highest type of anti-drug propaganda, right from Nancy Reagan’s ‘just say no’ playbook. After four decades of this shit, the war on drugs stuff looks very out of touch. That’s something, considering the drug in question in this flick is cocaine, which is a bad, bad drug. Not very many people can be found who are lobbying for blow to be legalized, and yet this movie’s anti-drug message lacks so much nuance and subtlety that it would be easy to paint it as just more bullshit from the man, Reefer Madness-style.

It is silly and stupid movie, though, which is a plus here at Shitty Movie Sundays. There are gunfights galore, line after line of bad dialogue, and Charles Bronson in the Telly Savalas I-will-be-in-anything-that-pays latter days of his career. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, is shitty gold, and is a better watch than Alien: Resurrection.

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