“Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy!” That’s “Murphy’s Law,” and as you can imagine, it gets violated quite a lot, since strict adherence would surely result in the dullest Charles Bronson movie ever. MURPHY’S LAW, one in a long line of action movies Bronson made for Cannon during the 1980s, is also the least grim of the series, containing less sleaze and more humor than the rest.
You’ve seen Los Angeles police detective Jack Murphy (Bronson) before. He’s a burned-out alcoholic cop with a stripper ex-wife (43-year-old Angel Tompkins, who looks great in her topless scenes), a loyal partner (Robert F. Lyons, also with Bronson in 10 TO MIDNIGHT) and a lieutenant who yells a lot and tells Murphy, “You look like shit!”
Murphy’s problems get a lot worse when he is arrested for the murder of his ex and her new boyfriend and handcuffed to an extremely foulmouthed teen car thief (Kathleen Wilhoite). He’s being framed by the unstable and recently paroled Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress), who’s killing everyone she holds responsible for her prison stay and framing Murphy for the murders. Murphy, still attached to Wilhoite (ROAD HOUSE), escapes in an attempt to clear his name while staying one step ahead of both the law and a vengeful mob boss (Richard Romanus).
One thing’s for certain. MURPHY’S LAW must be the fastest-paced of Bronson’s Cannon oeuvre. A car smashes into a diner. A helicopter crashes into a barn (one populated with shotgun-wielding pot farmers, coincidentally enough). The body count is high. The bloody final confrontation takes place in Los Angeles’ famed Bradbury Building and finds Bronson deftly dodging crossbow bolts.
The sure-handed direction by Thompson, who worked with Bronson nine times, keeps your interest from flagging, but Bronson is more interesting than you might initially think. Murphy is shaded in gray, torturing himself night after night by watching his ex-wife stripping for “horny lowlifes” (“You know what you look like up there? A whooooooore!”), but smart enough—and tough enough—to battle his way out of enough jams to tax even the most intrepid alcoholic movie cop.
Wilhoite is a weakness—and a major one, since she’s on-screen more than anyone else besides Bronson. Unable to open her mouth without a string of juvenile curses like “snotrag” and “sperm count” emerging, Wilhoite struggles with a screenplay that makes her character not very likable and an absurd romantic interest for Bronson; the brief sexual banter between her and the 65-year-old Bronson is creepier than it is sweet.