10 February 2006 | paul_johnr
He's been framed!
After the ridiculous yet entertaining 'Death Wish 3,' Charles Bronson and his fans needed to relax for a while. Fortunately enough, Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson came out in 1986 with the actioner/dark comedy 'Murphy's Law,' whose texture is almost the complete opposite of DW3. While still carrying its fair share of sex, violence, and overall bad taste, 'Murphy's Law' is a light-hearted film by comparison and makes neat changes to Bronson's on-screen persona.
In a workmanlike script by Gail Morgan Hickman (of TV's 'The Equalizer'), Bronson reprises his earlier cop roles as Jack Murphy, a Los Angeles detective who is going to pieces after breaking up with his sex-starved wife. Murphy is a heavy drinker who struggles to get out of bed in the morning; when he does manage to rise, he argues with other detectives on the force and nags his ex (Angel Topkins), who has begun stripping at a local nightclub.
To fulfill Murphy's Law - "if anything can go wrong, it will" - the justice system has released Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress), a psychopath whom Murphy arrested for murder ten years before. Dead-set on revenge, Freeman returns to knock off everyone linked to her case, including Murphy and his acquaintances. Sure enough, Murphy is collared for the death of his ex-wife and finds himself in lockup with Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite), a foul-mouthed young woman whom he just arrested for driving off with his car. Handcuffed to one another, he manages to take McGee hostage and escape from jail. The bulk of 'Murphy's Law' follows Murphy and McGee in their search for the real killer, ticking off an already-livid mob boss (Richard Romanus) in the process.
Like other Bronson films from the 80s, 'Murphy's Law' doesn't boast Oscar-worthy scriptwriting, acting, or technical work. The film is geared towards an average Bronson connoisseur, with Charles quietly sweeping out the trash. But 'Murphy's Law' isn't without heart: Bronson looks very human, with a healthy amount of vulnerability. In what other 80s film does Bronson get arrested, bleed, pass out, have a concussion, make a friend, and even sit down for a sandwich?
Bronson and Kathleen Wilhoite don't have "chemistry" per se, but to watch an odd friendship develop between Murphy and McGee is entertaining in itself. Although Wilhoite is given a ridiculous number of swear words to toss around ("jock itch" and "camel crotch" are two good ones), McGee still comes off as lovable, a girl you'd actually love to hang around and steal cars with. Carrie Snodgress balances the humor of Murphy and McGee with an intense performance as the killer. The supporting cast, including Robert F. Lyons, Bill Henderson, and Richard Romanus, is quite good, although Romanus is guilty of overacting in certain scenes as mob head Frank Vincenzo.
Compared to J. Lee Thompson's other films of the decade, 'Murphy's Law' is above average technically. The film was decently edited by his son Peter and Charles Simmons (although you should watch Vincenzo's robe during the hooker scene) and crisp cinematography was supplied by Alex Phillips Jr., another Thompson mainstay. Of disappointing quality is the music by Marc Donahue and Valentine McCallum, which is synthesized and very repetitive. Wilhoite sings the more pleasing end theme.
Highly recommended for action fans and a must for Bronson collectors, 'Murphy's Law' is available on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment in dual widescreen and standard format with three-language subtitles. To my surprise, the digital transfer is excellent, showing crystal-clear visuals and almost no grain. Murphy's theatrical trailer is included as an extra, which looks shopworn and has Bronson saying "Don't -mess- with Jack Murphy." Fill in the blank yourself.
After 'Murphy's Law,' Bronson and Thompson hit a dry spell with 'Death Wish 4' and 'Messenger of Death.' They ended their collaboration in 1989 with the engaging 'Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects,' Thompson's last film as a director. Bronson's wife Jill Ireland, incidentally, co-produced 'Murphy' with Pancho Kohner.
*** out of 4