Paul Kersey is back in L.A. and goes to war with drug dealers in this Yojimbo-inspired fourth installment of the action franchise.

After cleaning up the streets in New York two years ago, Paul Kersey has returned to L.A. where he lives a normal life. Finally, he has found himself a steady girlfriend in journalist Karen Sheldon and is hard at work in his architecture company. He’s even grown close to Karen’s daughter Erica, who sees Paul as a father figure. However, Paul and Karen’s world are turned upside down when Erica dies in the hospital after a cocaine overdose. Paul promptly follows Erica’s boyfriend Randy, where he sees Randy confronts the dealer who gave Erica the drugs. After the dealer kills Randy, Paul shoots the dealer and gets away before the police arrive.

The next day, a mysterious note and phone call leads Paul to Nathan White, a newspaper owner who knows about Paul’s previous acts of vigilantism. He offers Paul a deal. There are two major dealers in Los Angeles, Jack Romero and Ed Zacharias. Zacharias is the one whose dealer Paul had killed the night before. If Paul can eliminate both factions, he will not let the police know of his past crimes. Paul reluctantly agrees and begins a plan to turn both sides against each other. However, as his plan continues, some dark truths and reveals puts Paul in harm’s way against the police and the dealers.

After taking on street thugs in the first three installments, and with the epidemic of drug use in the 80’s, it only seems fitting that Charles Bronson’s iconic Paul Kersey takes on drug dealers in this fourth installment of the action film franchise. This time, the death of his girlfriend’s daughter becomes the catalyst for his acts of vigilantism. Interestingly enough, Michael Winner does not return as the film’s director, but rather J. Lee Thompson, who has worked with Bronson on Assassination, 10 to Midnight, and Murphy’s Law to name a few.

It is great to see Kersey having a steady girlfriend after two failed relationships post-Death Wish in the form of Karen, played by Kay Lenz. It is Karen’s daughter’s death that prompts Kersey to go into action in the vein of Yojimbo, which screenwriter Gail Morgan Hickman confessed to have as the influence. As for Karen, she plans to use her journalist methods to crack down on the drug dealers. It is not so much she is helping Paul as she has no clue about his plan. John P. Ryan brings a sense of mystery as Nathan White, the man who hires Kersey to go after the drug lords in Los Angeles. He plays a vital role in giving Kersey the intel needed to proceed with the plan.

One interesting aspect of the Death Wish series is the early appearance of a major star. The first had Jeff Goldblum as a thug. The second had Laurence Fishburne as a thug. The third had Alex Winter as a thug. So who does the honor go to for Death Wish 4? Enter Machete himself, Danny Trejo, sporting short hair and a suit to play a member of Zacharias’ crew who meets his fate early on in what is only a two-minute scene. Of course, with the previous films, there has to be a police officer involved and his attempt to bust Kersey only to have a sense of predictability is still there, but by this time, it tends to be a little tiring.

What about the action? Of course, we’re talking Bronson and 80’s action films, so enter a lot of shooting and in the case of one scene, a hilarious explosion scene where you can see dummy versions of those about to explode one second before the explosion hits the screen. To set the climactic shootout in a filled roller rink brings a lot of stunts on part from the fleeing skaters as they are shocked and resort to having to skate their way to avoid being shot by either Bronson or the goons. Another shootout in an abandoned oil field is quite an exciting 80’s action set piece as well.

So overall, Death Wish 4 is quite a predictable 80’s action film that still has some fun action scenes, but some of the secondary characters become increasingly boring and worn out. However, the Yojimbo-style influence does add a nice new twist to the franchise.


A Cannon Films presenation. Director: J. Lee Thompson. Producer: Pancho Kohner. Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman; based on characters created by Brian Garfield. Cinematography: Gideon Porath. Editing: Peter-Lee Thompson.

Cast: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, George Dickerson, Soon Teck-Oh, Dana Barron, Jesse Dabson, Mike Moroff, Peter Sheryanko, James Purcell, Michael Russo, Danny Trejo.