Death Wish 4 & 5 (Blu-ray) (1994)
Audio Commentary-with Author Paul Talbot
|Year Of Production||1994|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||
J. Lee Thompson
Allan A. Goldstein
John P. Ryan
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 1.0
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown
It’s risky business getting close to architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), whose family and friends all seem to have a drastically reduced life expectancy. 1987’s Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the third sequel to 1974’s Death Wish, and it is more or less what one would expect from the fourth entry in an ’80s action franchise. Although more watchable than Death Wish II, Death Wish 4 is not a patch on the enormously enjoyable third film or the solid original movie which started it all. Clocking in at a rather beefy 100 minutes (the longest in the series), Death Wish 4 does deliver from an action standpoint, but the franchise’s central conceit has grown both tired and repetitive, and there is no longer any trace of the underlying themes which elevated the first movie above pure exploitation. Nevertheless, while this sequel is too predictable and by-the-numbers to make much of an impact, Bronson fans should enjoy the action sequences and droll humour.
Now that Kersey’s entire family has been wiped out (with the notable exception of his stepson who curiously disappeared after the original film), each sequel must introduce new loved ones who are lined up and slaughtered to bring out his vigilante instincts. Returning to Los Angeles, Kersey is now dating attractive thirtysomething reporter Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz), who has a teenage daughter named Erica (Dana Barron). They all live together happily, but this would not be another Death Wish sequel unless solace is shattered. Erica dies of a drug overdose, and, in retaliation, Paul seeks to punish L.A.’s major drug dealers. Kersey receives financial support in the form of the wealthy Nathan White (John P. Ryan), who is likewise 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 in order to 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 thematic relevance with mindless bloodletting and exploitative action. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown continues this tradition; it’s expectedly thin on plot but thick on action. Written by Gail Morgan Hickman (Murphy’s Law), this instalment admittedly attempts timely themes relating to the dangers of drug since Kersey targets drug dealers as opposed to street punks, but it lacks the gritty realism and thoughtfulness required to send home a clear message. It does not help that the drug trade is simplified to just a handful of key players for Kersey to kill. Indeed, the makers of Death Wish 4 were primarily interested in a pure vigilante fantasy, while everything else is just insignificant window dressing. Furthermore, the script is filled with laughable contrivances, unclear motivations and one-dimensional characterisations. Kersey is now more of an assassin as opposed to a straight-up vigilante, and Death Wish 4 consequently feels closer to a sequel to Bronson’s The Mechanic.
Bronson was reportedly displeased with the experience of shooting Death Wish 3, which led to the end of his creative partnership with director Michael Winner. Replacing him is J. Lee Thompson, whose prior credits include Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone, as well as such Bronson movies as 10 to Midnight and The Evil That Men Do. The series’ production company, Cannon Films, was verging on bankruptcy during the production of Death Wish 4, leading to reduced budgets. Therefore, despite the success of the Death Wish franchise, this entry was produced for a scant $5 million sum, of which $4 million reportedly constituted Bronson’s salary. Thus, Thompson’s work is visibly marred by budgetary restraints and a hastened shooting schedule, with basic camera set-ups as well as obvious technical goofs. A body falling off a building in one scene is clearly a dummy, for example, and an explosion in a bar looks obviously superimposed. The action sequences admittedly remain entertaining despite a lack of nail-biting tension, but one has to overlook certain contrivances to enjoy them. For instance, assailants with a clear shot at Kersey always delay pulling the trigger, giving the protagonist a chance to notice their position and shoot first. Furthermore, Cannon Films apparently could not afford to fund a complete new score, and therefore a bulk of the music was recycled from the Chuck Norris movies Invasion U.S.A. and Missing in Action.
The aging Charles Bronson is certainly no spring chicken here, but he does deliver some great tough guy dialogue, and fans who enjoy his on-screen persona should have fun watching him playing Kersey again. Despite his age, Bronson is still a believable badass, handling the requirements of the role with ease. Since Bronson was apparently allotted 80% of the budget, none of the other actors manage to make much of an impact, and character names barely stick. Both Danny Trejo (Machete) and Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) appear in minor roles for all of a few minutes each (in the early days of their respective careers), while Dana Barron is recognisable due to her appearance as Audrey Griswold in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation.
As long as you disable your brain before viewing and temper your expectations, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is a serviceable instalment in the Death Wish franchise. No matter its flaws, it’s still enjoyable to behold an idiosyncratic product of the 1980s, with blank-firing weapons, real flames and practical blood squibs, before digital effects became so prevalent. Moreover, it’s hard not to get a kick out of Bronson blowing up the villain with a freaking M203 grenade launcher. It’s preposterous, yes, but this is still a fun big-screen cartoon. Death Wish 4 foundered at the box office, but it was a huge hit on home video, selling millions of VHS cassettes. This ensured that one more sequel would come along (seven years later) to round out the franchise: 1994’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death.
Death Wish V: The Face of Death
1994’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death further confirms that prolific architect-cum-vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is the single unluckiest man on the planet. This fifth and final instalment in the long-running Death Wish franchise hit cinemas on the twentieth anniversary of Kersey’s first attempt to stifle crime on the streets of New York City, and it represents the legendary Charles Bronson’s last theatrical appearance (he would only star in three more made-for-TV films). Death Wish V (randomly reverting back to Roman numerals) drifts even further away from the original Death Wish, playing out as a violent action fantasy rather than providing any thoughtful themes. Indeed, in spite of their entertainment value, the Death Wish sequels unmistakably advocate vigilante justice rather than condoning it, continually reiterating the message that the law system does not work. Nevertheless, as trashy low-grade ’90s action movies go, Death Wish V is perfectly serviceable despite its silliness, and long-time Bronson fans should still have fun with it.
In this follow-up, Kersey has returned to New York City and again enters a relationship with a woman thirty years his junior. Kersey is dating renowned fashion industry figure Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Down), whom he intends to marry. However, Olivia’s mafia ex-husband Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks) wants to get his mitts on her fashion empire. Hoping to put O’Shea behind bars, Olivia agrees to testify against him, but she winds up predictably dead as a result. Kersey is less than pleased about his fiancée’s murder, bringing about a pertinent question from the cops: “You’re not thinking about going back to your old ways, are you?” But of course, this would not be another Death Wish sequel unless Kersey comes out of retirement one last time to punish the perpetrators.
The problems with Death Wish V primarily stem from the elementary script, credited to director Allan A. Goldstein. Dialogue is unremarkable and clichés are frequent, ranging from corrupt police to a villain with most of the city on his payroll. The set-up preceding Olivia’s death is comparatively extended, implying that Goldstein was trying to establish a genuine emotional connection between Kersey and his fiancée to add impact to her inevitable demise, but the writer-director lacks the dexterity to pull it off, and the relationship instead feels perfunctory. Indeed, Death Wish V is pure formula, never attempting to stray from the franchise’s well-worn idiosyncrasies or story points. In standard Death Wish tradition, there are thankfully plenty of cheesy one-liners which are easy to laugh at, and Kersey delivers ample tough guy dialogue.
Armed with a scant $5 million budget, the film’s technical presentation is pleasingly competent and the action sequences are assembled with adequate flair despite Goldstein’s inexperience with genre pictures. Produced before digital effects became so prominent, there are real stunts and explosions to be seen throughout Death Wish V, though the seams are visible at times (a person on fire is clearly wearing a protective face mask, for instance). The lack of budget is occasionally evident as well, particularly after Olivia is supposedly disfigured by a broken mirror - the actress only appears to have a few texta marks on her face. In addition, funerals are sparsely attended and Olivia’s entire fashion empire is restricted to a single dingy warehouse, complete with an acidic pool. Filming for Death Wish V took place in Canada to save money, and Goldstein uses stock footage of New York City to create the illusion that the movie takes place in NYC. Frankly, the stock footage comprises at least half of the movie, and it is obvious that the principal actors are never in New York. In 1974’s Death Wish, NYC was a character unto itself, but it’s difficult to get a proper sense of time and place here. Furthermore, Goldstein stages several sequences of torture that go on for too long and lack tact, creating an air of sadism. Death Wish V also ends abruptly - the script reportedly contained additional ending scenes that were not filmed, and the result is jarring.
Bronson was seventy-two at the time of Death Wish V, necessitating a suspension of disbelief as Kersey continues to indulge his vigilante instincts. Unsurprisingly, Bronson does not display a great deal of athleticism, but he does appear in respectable shape despite his age. As ever, this is not an especially nuanced performance, but those who appreciate his screen persona should get a kick out of his efforts nevertheless. Kersey continues to expand his arsenal here, murdering victims using poison and remote-controlled soccer ball bombs, among other things. Indeed, much like Death Wish 4, this occasionally feels more like a sequel to The Mechanic, given the elaborate assassinations. In the role of O’Shea, late veteran character actor Michael Parks (From Dusk till Dawn, Kill Bill) is reliably effective and scenery-chewing, though the script only asks him to play a simplistic black-and-white bad guy. But despite the character’s one-dimensionality, Parks is one of the better villains in the franchise, and is well-matched against Bronson. Saul Rubinek (True Romance, Unforgiven) also appears in a minor role, while other mildly recognisable performers fill out the supporting cast.
At its most basic level, Death Wish V: The Face of Death is a watchable 1990s action film, the likes of which Menahem Golan was renowned for producing during his heyday. Those seeking a straightforward revenge actioner with Bronson doing what he does best should be satisfied, but if you want a rumination on the morality of vigilante justice like the original Death Wish, you should not be watching these sequels. Cannon Films dissolved in the early 1990s due to bankruptcy, leading Golan to establish his own production company and spearhead Death Wish V in the hope that it would serve as a sure-fire hit. Alas, the follow-up was an abject failure at the domestic box office, grossing a pathetic $1.7 million against the reported $5 million budget, and receiving a direct-to-video release in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, another sequel was considered without Bronson’s involvement, to be titled Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante. When Golan’s 21st Century Film Corporation went bankrupt, however, the fifth sequel was cancelled. Since the quality could have only declined even further, particularly with Bronson stepping away, it is probably fortunate that the planned fifth sequel was never brought to fruition. Instead, Death Wish was remade in 2018 with Bruce Willis taking up the mantle as Paul Kersey.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
MGM's U.S. release of Death Wish 4 only contains a trailer. No other releases worldwide feature any supplemental material. Death Wish V was never released in the U.S. on Blu-ray - only in Germany and a few other countries. These releases contain no extras. Umbrella's double pack earns the win.
|DVD||LG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|