*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- The Vigilante is Back with a Vengeance
Release Date- November 6th, 1987
Running Time- 99-Minutes
Screenplay- Gail Morgan Hickman
Director- J. Lee Thompson
Starring- Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, George Dickerson, Soon-Tech Oh, Dana Barron
The original Death Wish is the holy grail of the vigilante flick and in my opinion the best vigilante flick hands down. At the time Charles Bronson was 54 and that was the movie that launched him from supporting actor to lead. The 2nd Death Wish was pretty much a rehash of the original, but still a very good film. Both films may not be the most realistic, but I think they can actually happen. They were excellent crime/dramas of a man pushed too far, but once we got to the 3rd movie they became action flicks and Bronson’s character Paul Kersey sort of became a superhero going up against people half his age and he also had a whole arsenal of weapons. Death Wish 4 however not only is Kersey a superhero, but he channels his inner James Bond as he now seems to have skills of a spy with tapping phones and going undercover!
After destroying Brooklyn in Death Wish 3 the 4th film returns to Los Angeles also the setting of the 2nd movie. Perhaps the makers of the movies aren’t aware, but the US has other places besides New York and L.A. the 1st, 3rd and 5th were set in NY with again 2 & 4 being is L.A. so here we are back in Los Angeles and Paul Kersey (Bronson) is attempting to live a normal life as he’s in a relationship with Karen (Lenz) who has a teenage daughter Erica (Barron) and Paul cares deeply for both and hey this is a Death Wish movie so the fate of both characters shouldn’t be a shocker. After Erica dies from an OD, Paul reverts back to his vigilante ways, while Karen who works for a newspaper tries to gather information for an article she wants to write about the dangers of drugs. In Kersey’s quest for revenge he meets Nathan White (Ryan) who gives Kersey the weapons and info he needs to destroy the drug cartels overrunning L.A., but Nathan White may not be who he seems to be and soon Kersey is on his own sets out for another deadly showdown.
There were some changes made to the series with Death Wish 4 starting with the change of director. Michael Winner who of course directed the first 3 movies is out and J. Lee Thompson who by this time was mostly working for Cannon Films steps into the director’s chair and the classic score used in past films is pretty much gone and if I’m being totally honest this really doesn’t feel like a Death Wish movie and I’m not sure it needed to be there are mentions of the first 2 (nothing said about 3) and I guess as its own film it might be a little too much like Death Wish, and I guess the name of the series helps box office numbers and again even with eliminating mentions of past films it still would be too much a like despite how different this film was to the past 3.
The screenplay written by Gail Morgan Hickman whose other credits include Murphy’s Law (also starring Bronson and directed by J. Lee Thompson) and is credited for the story on the Eastwood Dirty Harry classic the Enforcer. Whereas the first 2 films were mostly crime/dramas starting with the 3rd they became more action driven, but 3 still retains many elements of the first 2, but seems to be a more satirical take on them, but Hickman writes Death Wish 4 as an action movie and no longer does Kersey hide in the shadows, here he strikes whenever he can and walks away out in the open. The screenplay has some touches of social commentary as it tackles the dangers of drug use and deals with teen drug use in particular, but if you’re looking for a deep screenplay, Death Wish 4 isn’t one of them. The opening scene was quite interesting as it starts off in a parking garage where 3 masked men attack a woman and Kersey shows up and kills all three, but when he looks down at one of the victims he sees himself and is in shock. Of course this is all a dream, but this idea never goes anywhere and I’m not sure what the point of it was since again it’s never brought up. It was an interesting idea I suppose to get into Kersey’s head, but this scene could easily be removed and nothing would be missing. The script works on the camp factor and while the script does differ than the past 3 and as I said this could have worked as its own film, but really by this point there wasn’t much left to do except have Bronson go around killing bad guys. The script is fun though, but does take itself a little too serious at times and I’m not entirely sure some of the silly dialogue was always intentional. Overall the script isn’t really anything special though some interesting ideas were presented, but never go anywhere; the script simply is just about Kersey killing bad guys and its quite easy to forget why he’s even after this drug cartel and Kay Lenz who plays a vital role early in the film is gone though the middle shows up again in the final act and its easy to forget she’s in the film.
At one point J. Lee Thompson was an acclaimed director, but by this point in his career he was making silly action flicks that really didn’t showcase his talents, but these films did work on the fun factor. With the change of director comes a change in tone and while J. Lee Thompson has made some solid films, Death Wish 4 is far inferior to the previous 3. Michael Winner may not be a great filmmaker, but with the first 3 Death Wish films he did a great job with the original film being the holy grail of the vigilante film. The pacing for Death Wish 4 can be sluggish in spots, but for the most part there enough action and silly moments to keep the film entertaining. Death Wish 4 feels more like your run of the mill low budget 80s action film rather than a Death Wish film, but Thompson still crafts a fun and over the top film.
Charles Bronson is great as Paul Kersey and despite nearing 70 at the time I personally never found it difficult to except Bronson going around taking out people half his age. Death Wish 4 is just a showcase for Bronson to go around killing thugs and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Like I said before Kersey never really hides in the shadows, his escapes are in plain sight and he also doesn’t attempt to conceal himself at all either and even takes care of business during the daytime in an oil field. With his spy techniques and arsenal of weapons it is a bit over the top and it worked better in part 3 due to the satirical nature of the film (or at least I saw the film as more of a satire).
Of all 5 Death Wish films I would rate this or 5 as the weakest, but even a weak Death Wish film is still great fun. Overall Death Wish 4 is an entertaining film that at times attempts to be a little deeper, but quickly moves away from that in favor of action sequences. If you liked the previous 3 odds are you’ll enjoy this one as well.
Death Wish 4 also boasts a solid cast of character actors and cult favorite Danny Trejo appears in a couple of brief scenes one where he meets an exploding end!