It's risky business getting close to architect-come-vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson), whose family and friends all seem to have a drastically reduced life expectancy. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the third sequel to 1974's Death Wish, and it signals a substantial decline in quality for the series. This isn't quite the same kettle of fish as its predecessors - the concept is tired, Paul has lost his inimitable zing, and a new director is behind the camera. In the end, Death Wish 4 is merely a careless, low-budget money-grab.
Now that Paul Kersey's entire family has been wiped out (with the exception of his stepson who curiously disappeared after the first film), additional loved ones need to be introduced in order to bring out Paul's vigilante instincts - for this outing, he's dating a woman and she has alive family members.
In Death Wish 4, Paul has returned to Los Angeles and is dating attractive reporter Karen Sheldon (Lenz) who has a teenage daughter named Erica (Barron). They all live together happily, but this wouldn't be another Death Wish sequel unless this solace is shattered. One night Erica dies of a drug overdose, and in retaliation Paul begins to punish the city's major drug dealers. But even an unstoppable vigilante like Paul Kersey needs some support, and here it comes from publisher Nathan White (Ryan) who's determined to avenge the drug-related death of his own daughter. White hires Kersey to kill the key players within two rival drug dealing organisations and thus instigate a war between them. Of course, the police get involved with some reluctance...but are utterly useless in the grand scheme of things.
The original Death Wish effectively spoke about the urban crime epidemic of the 1970s, but the sequels substituted this societal commentary with bloodletting and exploitative action. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown continues this tradition with thinner plotting and thicker action. It's filled with laughable contrivances, unclear motivations, one-dimensional characterisations and an almost indecipherable plot. Unlike the preceding sequels, Paul Kersey now targets drug dealers instead of street punks. The film tries to deliver a timely message about the dangers of drug use, but it lacks the gritty realism required to send home a clear message, and it's clearly interested in just one thing: exploiting violence.
Charles Bronson was apparently displeased with Death Wish 3, and terminated his creative partnership with director Michael Winner as a result. J. Lee Thompson instead parachuted into the director's chair (his prior films include Cape Fear and Guns of the Navarone, and such Bronson films as The Evil That Men Do). The series' distributor (Cannon Films) was on the verge of bankruptcy by the time Death Wish 4 came down the pipeline, and the company were accordingly cutting back on budgets. Thompson's work is visibly marred by budgetary restraints - camera movements and set-ups are basic, and there are a bunch of technical goofs (one explosion looks incredibly fake and was obviously superimposed). The action sequences do remain enjoyable, but one has to overlook a number of contrivances while watching them (people with clear shots at Paul always delay their firing, giving the protagonist a chance to notice their position).
The aging Charles Bronson was no spring chicken when Death Wish 4 entered production, and he sleepwalks throughout the film as if someone was always dangling his paycheck just out of camera range. It's gotten to the point where the vigilante just isn't motivated anymore. At least Bronson does deliver some great tough guy dialogue, mind you. As with prior instalments, credibility is frequently an issue - how can an aging Paul continue to fight and win against more spry opponents? Oh well, it's an action film of the '80s...who cares about logic?
As long as you disable your brain before viewing and temper your expectations, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is a serviceable entry to the stale Death Wish series. In the end it's just too predictable, too naff and too by-the-numbers.
Followed by Death Wish V: The Face of Death.