Saturday, March 12, 2011

Murphy's Law

Not much is weirder than 65-year-old Charles Bronson trading sexy banter with foul-mouthed teenage car thief Kathleen Wilhoite (ROAD HOUSE) in MURPHY’S LAW. One of nine films Bronson made with director J. Lee Thompson (CAPE FEAR), MURPHY’S LAW is structured like another routine cop drama, but is laced with enough weirdness to make it stand out.

Topping the list is DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE’s Carrie Snodgress as a crazy bitch named Joan Freeman, just out on parole and out for revenge against the men who put her behind bars, including cop Jack Murphy (Bronson). “Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy” is “Murphy’s Law,” and as you can imagine, it gets violated quite a lot. Snodgress lifting weights and explaining to her parole officer (Janet MacLachlan) that she shouldn’t have let her out of prison just before strangling her to death is one of Snodgress’ least deranged moments.

Freeman’s plan for Murphy involves framing him for the murder of his stripper ex-wife (Angel Tompkins). His flight from arraignment finds him handcuffed to Arabella McGee (Wilhoite), a unlikable waif whose vocabulary ranges from “butt crust” to “sperm bank.” More murders follow, and Murphy races to clear his name before the law, Freeman, or a vengeful mobster (Richard Romanus) can track him down.

Containing less sleaze and more humor than most of Bronson’s other Cannon flicks, MURPHY’S LAW has a screenplay by Gail Morgan Hickman (DEATH WISH IV) that’s pretty basic on the surface — another burned-out alcoholic cop with a stripper ex, a genial loyal partner (Robert F. Lyons), and a lieutenant who yells and tells Murphy, “You look like shit!” Thompson finds ways of enhancing the written word, whether it be Snodgress’ excellent performance or his use of iconic downtown Los Angeles locations, such as the Grand Central Market, the El Royale, and the Bradbury Building, where the climax takes place.

Pains are also taken with Bronson’s character, a self-loathing drunk who spends his nights watching his ex strip for “horny lowlifes” (“You know what you look like up there? A whooooooore!”) and torturing himself (43-year-old Tompkins acquits herself perfectly on stage). Not a popular fellow at work, even before being accused of murder, Murphy is taunted about his ex-wife’s career by a rival cop (James Luisi): “Nice tits. Taste as good as they look?”

Though less grim than other ‘80s Bronson films like THE EVIL THAT MEN DO and 10 TO MIDNIGHT, MURPHY’S LAW isn’t always pleasant. Thompson’s staging of the action and suspense scenes is expert and imaginative, only let down by the routine story surrounding them. A car smashes into a diner. A helicopter crashes into a barn housing shotgun-wielding pot farmers. The body count is high, and Bronson even bleeds. Despite his alcoholism, Murphy is smart enough — and tough enough — to battle against odds high enough to tax the most intrepid cop.

1 comment:

Booksteve said...

I was a big Bronson fan but have always avoided the later theatrical films as it got to the point where he seemed to be just going through the motions. He seemed to enjoy the final TV stuff much better and actually put some effort into his performances.

Had NOT seen this one then but you made it sound so good I had to grab a copy. Not bad. Not bad at all.