As the saying goes, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. And Charles Bronson's vigilante killer is once again endangering the lives of those closest to him. Granted, the man is only trying to move on from his past and find some peace in his life, but considering the sort of bad mojo he brings into every relationship, you'd think he'd have given up on all that nonsense by now. As a retired enforcer of apathetic street justice, he's settled into his seemingly successful career as an architect back in Los Angeles and finds love once more with single mother Karen (Kay Lenz). Yet for some reason, crime is always knocking at his door, interrupting his tranquility. Thankfully, Bronson's Kersey always answers with a gleeful grenade launcher attached to an M16.
This time, screenwriter Gail Morgan Hickman, whose only notable hit was ten years earlier with the story for another Dirty Harry misadventure in 'The Enforcer,' develops a plot that's more topical and current than the first three movies. The drug wars of the 1980s hit too close to home when Karen's teenage daughter, Erica (Dana Barron of 'Vacation'), becomes the latest statistic. Like its predecessors, this tends to come just as things are at their most upbeat and positive in the life of our valiant senior citizen. Already scarred by his past, which Bronson shows on his face and in his portrayal of a character he's all-too familiar with, the hard-bitten Kersey is quickly back on the hunt to clean-up the streets. It doesn't take long for him to uncover the pusher responsible and quickly wields out his brand of justice with a Walther pistol in the middle of an arcade.
Part of the fun in the previous films, more so in the sequels than in the original, is seeing a crotchety old man fed up with all the trouble-making hooligans roaming the streets. He brandishes his lethal arsenal of illegal weapons like it's a walking stick and yells at all the kids to get off his lawn. Unfortunately, in 'Death Wish 4,' it's just starting to look rather sad — that same old man seeming more senile because he now thinks the entire city is his front yard. Becoming more of a caricature of his former heroic self, similar to part three except nowhere near as funny, Kersey also now requires outside assistance to feed him information, played by the suspiciously secretive John P. Ryan, who was later seen as the creepily robotic teacher Mr. Harding in 'Class of 1999.'
As Kersey comes to realize that the fight against drugs is more complex than simply ridding the street pushers, the more we find out he's actually better resourced and effective than the any federal enforcement, infiltrating and wire-tapping a major organization with very little trouble. In his quest to eliminate all the Tony Montanas from his city, he devises the perfect plan to pit cartel families, Zacharias (Perry Lopez) and the Romeros (Mike Moroff and Dan Ferro), against each other. Meanwhile, two LA detectives unsympathetic to Kersey's cause, Reiner (George Dickerson) and Nozaki (Soon-Tek Oh of 'Missing in Action 2'), are apparently better at suspecting the vigilante killer as the culprit creating the mayhem than at arresting drug dealers. Oh, and along the way a very young Danny Trejo shares the screen with Bronson before being blown away.
Director Michael Winner, who worked on the first three 'Death Wish' movies, goes MIA for this fourth installment, and his absence is felt throughout. That's not to say that J. Lee Thompson fails in any significant way; he just brings his own distinct style to the franchise that noticeably differs from Winner's work. Many should recognize the director from the classic thriller 'Cape Fear' and for his involvement in the last two 'Planet of the Apes' films. Cult enthusiasts might also remember Thompson from the entertaining B-movies 'Happy Birthday to Me' and 'Firewalker' with Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett, Jr. In 'Death Wish 4: The Crackdwon,' he keeps things moving forward but several spots take nosedives into boredom, occupied by melodramatic conversations that create a made-for-television feel. However, Thompson redeems his movie from complete failure with a great shootout inside a roller-skating rink and satisfying conclusion.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'Death Wish 4' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc bypasses the usual main menu screen and goes straight into the movie. Menu options are still available via the pop-up menu bar.
The fourth installment in the 'Death Wish' sage arrives on Blu-ray with yet another great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture shows spot-on contrast with crisp whites and excellent visibility in the distance. Except for a couple spots here and there, black levels are accurate, with a few scenes looking particularly inky. The color palette is also bold and cleanly rendered with rich saturation in the primaries. Shadow details could be a tad better, but there is still plenty to see during poorly-lit interiors. A fine layer of gain is every present, giving the transfer an appreciable cinematic appearance, and definition is striking on several occasions, revealing more wrinkles on Bronson's as well as on his leather jacket.
And wouldn't you know it, when dynamic range shows an improvement compared to the other two movies, something else seems to go wrong. The higher frequencies don't exactly stretch very far, but there is plenty of good clarity detail and separation from the mids. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono track offers a bit more weight in the low-end as well, providing an appreciable oomph to gunshots and explosions. Imaging is also broader with better presence in the soundstage. The one unfortunate aspect is the volume of the vocals, which often come in lower than the rest of the lossless mix. It's bad enough to reach for the remote and increase the decibels in order to hear some of the dialogue, and the generic music is not level matched with the rest of the soundtrack. Some of the action even tends to drown out a couple words.
In the end, the high-rez track is serviceable, but not very satisfying.
Only available feature is the movie's original theatrical preview in standard definition.
Lacking the style of the first three movies and the music of Jimmy Page from the last two, 'Death Wish 4: The Crackdown' comes in even further behind its predecessors, feeling terribly cheap and corny without any of the fun. A noticeably aging Bronson returns as the noticeably aging vigilante killer going after the drug cartels and determined to clean up the streets of LA once more. Like the other two releases, this Blu-ray release comes with excellent picture quality, but the audio is an unfortunately average presentation. Again, this is a barebones release that will only attract hardcore fans of the franchise.