Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cinematic Consumption - DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN

Death Wish 4 may just have the sweetest subtitle of all time: The Crackdown! Because Charles Bronson is "crackin’ down" on crime. Get it? And, since this 1987 film has the aging tough guy singlehandedly winning the war on drugs, it has a double meaning! Down with crack, kids, or crazy ol' Uncle Charlie will shoot you in the face with a grenade launcher! Wait, I'm lost. How did this series get to this point? Wasn't the first one a fairly sombre character-driven revenge drama? Doesn't rapidly mummifying Paul Kersey - architect by day, vigilante by night (except, of course, when he's just being a vigilante 24/7) - usually focus his attention on street punks, rapists and purse-snatchers? How did he suddenly come to star in a hilariously over-the-top-and-down-the-other-side generic mob war shoot 'em up in the Canon Group Pictures mould.

Oh, right, because Death Wish 4 WAS made by Canon, those fine purveyors of crappy-looking, cheesy 80s action extravaganzas, such as Cobra and Missing in Action, who never produced a film in which a villain shuffled off the mortal coil quietly. Indeed, people die horribly in The Crackdown. At one point, a dope dealer gets shot a half-dozen times by a sub-machine gun and turns, arms swinging wildly, and runs headfirst through a car window. That's dedication! Another baddie gets his noggin smashed through an exploding television, is thrown across a room, flips right over a 15-story balcony and lands facedown on a limo windshield. To quote the amazing Spunkadelic: I give it a 9.95!

The film even opens brilliantly! A nameless blonde woman is walking to her car in a darkened parking lot (Is there any other kind?). Nervous, she gets into her vehicle and fumbles with the keys, trying to start the car. It won't start. She looks up to see a shadowy figure nearby wearing nylon over his head. She panics and tries the ignition again. Nadda. She raises her head and now there are two goons patiently watching her. Once more, she freaks and turns the key. Bupkis. Whoa, now there are three goons standing there. What's with these guys' weirdo showmanship? After one last futile attempt she surveys the parking lot. The three men have utterly vanished in the span of two seconds. Or have they?! Suddenly they break through her windows, drag her out of the automobile and begin to slap her. But then Kersey, resembling Marvel’s the Punisher, steps out of the darkness. He blows away two of the assailants and chases the third down, capping him in the back. As he turns over the corpse, he sees his own face staring back at him! Kersey awakes with a jolt. It's all a dream! Obviously, it means that Kersey's quest for vengeance is going to consume his soul, right? Like Luke Skywalker in that magic tree on Dagobah? Wrong. It's never referenced again. Pretty cool opening, though, huh?

Following the silly teaser, we're reintroduced to Chicago's finest anti-hero, who's back in the architecture game and dating clueless investigative reporter Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz). Her daughter Erica (Dana Barron) is a sweet young teenager with a promising aptitude for architectural design. Surprise, she's doomed! After ingesting too much nose candy, the girl flatlines. However, before Kersey can drag out his killer hobo clothes, he's recruited by Nathan White (John P. Ryan - who looks like Dick Van Dyke crossed with John Carpenter), a millionaire press baron who also lost a child to drugs. He hires Kersey to kill the town's two warring cartels, and supplies him with explosives, Uzis and assault rifles (Revolvers are sooo 1970s!). Soon, Kersey is wiping out powder merchants left, right and center - and making zero attempts to remain inconspicuous.

Whoops, almost forgot: At the same time, Karen sets out to write a damning expose of Chicago's drug scene. Or something. Don't worry about paying close attention. The movie drops this sub-plot after about 5 boring minutes.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown was one of the last pictures directed by the J. Lee Thompson, helmer of the original Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone. Seems his waltz with genius was pretty short-lived, as he spent most of the 70s and 80s half-heartedly overseeing junk like King Solomon's Mines, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Firewalker and the forgettable Bronson clinkers Avenging Angels and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects. I wish I could say The Crackdown was a final grasp at glory, but it really, really isn't. There's a climactic shoot-out at a roller disco, for the love of Pete!

All beating up on the picture aside, I'd be lying if I said I didn't slightly enjoy Death Wish 4. It's a dopey reminder of the half-witted, cartoonish action flicks I spent my teenage years consuming by the dozen. How can you not smile at a film that makes explicit reference to a villain having a "highly-trained baritone singing voice," and then never features a single scene of him bellowing a tune? Or a film which depicts a 66-year-old man being talked into a limousine by an evil chauffeur, locked inside, then given enough time to watch the goon walk up the road to another car and drive away, sit for a minute in desperate contemplation, try all the doors, shoot out a window, crawl through the opening and, finally, dive away before the vehicle explodes? So, in essence, if you want to watch a trashy movie so stupidly violent it'll give you a bad case of the giggles, you need to get down... with THE CRACKDOWN!!!

2 out of 5

No comments: