Death Wish 4

January 27, 2011

Death Wish 4 provides Charles Bronson with employment in his customary line of work: He loads himself down with ammunition and sets out to do justice in the world, without the intermediary of the judicial system. This time out, the target is drugs. Since, as one character puts it, “Everybody does drugs these days,” Bronson has quite a task.

As the film opens, it looks as though Bronson is preparing to ease into his golden years. He’s got a new girlfriend (Kay Lenz) and a flourishing business as an architect. Lenz has an adolescent daughter who is perky and lovable and full of life. This means that she is, of course, marked for death, since most people who get close to Bronson in these movies wind up getting wasted.

He takes revenge on the pusher who sold her some deadly drugs. Then Bronson is hired by a rich newspaper man (John P. Ryan) who seeks to destroy the two main suppliers of drugs in Los Angeles. Bronson opens up the ammo arsenal that he keeps behind his refrigerator and goes to work.

It’s formula action, although this sequel is slightly better than the last two Death Wish movies. J. Lee Thompson brings at least some professionalism to his direction, though the movie never blinds you with its speed. Bronson, who looks more than ever like a large, grizzled otter, goes through his usual paces. He begins the film with a dream about his favorite haunt, a dimly lit parking garage, and he remains all but asleep throughout the rest of the movie.

First published in the Herald, November 1987

A crap remake of Bronson’s Mechanic opens this week, so it seemed time to drag out another of that fine star’s desultory outings from the Eighties. And yes, if memory serves, this one was marginally superior to the previous sequels in the series; but J. Lee Thompson would stick with Charlie B. for two subsequent pictures, Messenger of Death and Kinjite—Forbidden Subjects, which were really grueling and ugly. And that was it for the directing career of the man who made The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear. I don’t need to tell you that Kay Lenz was a mainstay of Seventies and Eighties TV, and played the lead in Clint Eastwood’s Breezy, a nice movie that had an incredibly maddening and unavoidable four-wall ad campaign. (I wasn’t old enough to go to the movie when it came out, but logging twelve hours of television a day, the commercials would drive you insane.) It was the kind of thing to make you never forget Kay Lenz.