Thursday, August 27, 2015

Martial Law

You’ve probably forgotten, but Chad McQueen — son of actor Steve McQueen — was a star in direct-to-video movies in the 1990s. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even his producers knew he couldn’t carry even a minor film like MARTIAL LAW, which is why he was usually teamed up with another top-of-the-bill action star. Here it’s Cynthia Rothrock (CHINA O’BRIEN) as his partner and David Carradine (DEATH RACE 2000) as the heavy to relieve McQueen’s load.

McQueen plays Sean Thompson, a badass Los Angeles cop with the badass nickname of “Martial Law.” Even though he’s a uniformed cop in a squad car, Thompson is the guy the bosses call when they need a badass job performed like busting a punk in a crowded nightclub. It wouldn’t do for Martial Law to have a lady friend who wasn’t badass, so he partners on and off the job with Billie Blake (Rothrock), a badass cop who works double shifts to pay rent.

Thompson is investigating a hot car ring led by sinister suit-wearing Dalton Rhodes (Carradine), whose badass credentials are firmly established when he kills Professor Toru Tanaka with a five point palm exploding heart technique. It isn’t just a case for Martial Law, no sir. It’s personal, because his younger brother Michael (Andy McCutcheon) is a member of Dalton’s gang.

Steve Cohen was a second assistant director on several films and television series before producer Kurt Anderson (PARTY LINE) promoted him to director. With help from stunt coordinator Philip Tan, Cohen does a steady job helming a procession of good chases and fights, including one between Rothrock and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. Carradine had a habit of occasionally walking through pictures like this, but he was such an interesting actor, he could usually get away with it. Here he has a visibly good time being David Carradine, and it was probably good for McQueen that the two don’t share much dialogue. I shouldn’t be so hard on Chad. He’s kinda short and dumpy, but he’s handsome enough and he can throw a convincing punch. He and Rothrock are convincing as a caring couple too.

MARTIAL LAW is a standard DTV action movie, but an entertaining one. The climax pits McQueen against Carradine and Rothrock against Tan, and it’s exciting. Cohen sets an earlier suspense scene at the Griffith Park observatory at night, and McQueen shows up at a crime scene with a paper airplane. Watching the diminutive Rothrock do her stuff against guys twice her size is always a good time. After headlining two CHINA O’BRIEN films, she was too good an action star to be backing up Chad McQueen, and it’s curious why Cohen and Anderson didn’t see the potential in the two stars switching roles. Rothrock returned for the superior MARTIAL LAW II: UNDERCOVER, but with Jeff Wincott (MISSION OF JUSTICE) starring as Martial Law and Anderson making his directorial debut.

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