Monday, February 04, 2008

Illegal Drugs=Bad, Illegal Guns=Good.

That is the message one might take from Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which aired Sunday along with first 3 Death Wish films on American Movie Classics. In The Crackdown Charles Bronson returns as architect and sometimes killer vigilante Paul Kersey. When the daughter of Kersey's girlfriend dies of a cocaine OD Kersey is convinced to go back into action against two rival drug gangs. This of course involves him using firearms and explosives against the gangsters, firearms which he obviously acquires illegally. We're told that drugs are a scourge on society, one character calling drug dealers murderers. Yet it's apparently perfectly all right to acquire illegal weapons, although it should be quite obvious that the kind of people who sell them are going to sell them to whoever has the money, not just heroic vigilantes trying to avenge a teenage girl.

Of course it's a reasonable guess that I'm putting more effort into this post than screenwriter Gail Morgan Hickman did into considering any sort of philosophical contradictions in the script. You don't go to see a film like Death Wish 4 expecting to see a deep discussion of the rights and wrongs of taking justice into your own hands, and the means you use to do so. You go to see the lead character do in a bunch of nasties in various interesting ways. This film was made in the late '80s at the height of "Just say no" and the aftermath of Miami Vice, so drug pushers as central villains is no surprise. But it just as easily have been rabid racoon ranchers and the film would have largely been the same.

As with the previous two Death Wish films Death Wish 4 was brought to us by the Israeli kings of '80s B movie schlock Golan and Globus. Although they made a wide range of films it's action-adventure pieces like these that they're probably best remembered for. Menahem Golan's 21st Century Film Corporation would produce Death Wish 5: The Face of Death in 1994 after his partnership with Yoram Globus ended. I haven't seen it, but apparently Bronson's increasingly poor health is quite obvious in the film, and it was to be his last theatrical release.

Personally I found Death Wish 4 rather pedestrian, although Star Trek; Voyager fans may get a kick out of shouting "Oh no, Tuvok is selling drugs!" when Tim Russ appears as a drug pusher at the start of the film. You'd be further ahead to watch Death Wish 3, if only for the ridiculously over the top final reel where Kersey and the residents of a New York slum take on an army of street gang members and their motorcycle gang buddies. This includes the classic Hollywood trop of the good guys with handguns outshooting bad guys with automatic weapons, Martin Balsam gleefully watching all out mayhem break out in his neighbourhood, and at least one gang member who for some reason looks like a Southern redneck. Gavin O'Herlihy as gang chieftain Manny Fraker made me think of Clancy Brown as the Kurgan in the first Highlander film, although this was obviously not intentional since Highlander came out only a few months later. Sharp eyed viewers will also note that one of Fraker's crew is Alex Winter, who would go on to fame alongside Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

No comments: