Saturday, May 21, 2016

Murphy’s Law (1986)

Cop Jack Murphy (Charles Bronson) has hit on hard times – his wife has left him and chosen “stripper in a crappy club” as her new career path, most of his colleagues clearly think he’s an embarrassment, and he’s at the time where a burgeoning alcohol problem turns into simple alcoholism, as his hip flask of booze amply demonstrates.

In a turn of affairs that does not come as much of a surprise given the film’s title and the fact that this is an 80s Charles Bronson movie, Murphy soon finds himself in deeper trouble than just an identity crisis when his wife and her new boyfriend are murdered – hint: never marry or even just kiss Bronson in the 80s - and he is framed for the deed. Because nobody believes him, and the judicial process is for losers, Murphy breaks out of custody while handcuffed to one Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite), the potty-mouthed girl he arrested for stealing and totalling his car a few hours (days?) ago. Together they fight crime.

Well, at least, they try to evade Murphy’s former colleagues, attempt to not get killed by the crazy lady (Carrie Snodgress) who actually killed the wife and who is not just making Murphy’s life unpleasant but murdering a bunch of other people in increasingly improbable ways. It takes our heroes a bit to find out said crazy lady is actually Murphy’s problem instead of the cranky mafia boss (Richard Romanus) Murphy and his flask think is his problem. While they are at it, they also turn said mafia boss into another problem thanks to Murphy’s oh so subtle style (and because of the boss’s mom, but let’s not speak of her lest she appear to curse us).

After the hilarity and wonder of Death Wish 3, Cannon let Bronson cool off a bit with a film that is a bit more of a traditional thriller before churning out the next sequel. Or rather, Murphy’s Law should be more of a traditional thriller, but because it’s an 80s Cannon film, the workmanlike script also adds a bit of the traditional Cannon bad taste and assorted nonsense. For the connoisseur of the unpleasant, there are some truly icky homophobe jibes made by a Bronson who looks to be rather amused by them, an attempted rape (attempted, because this is a J. Lee Thompson Bronson movie and not a Michael Winner one, I suspect), and other random nastiness, while the admirer of Cannon-style stupidity mostly has to survive on a diet of McGee’s bizarre swearing and Carrie Snodgress’s scenery-chewing crazy woman committing random weird murders when not trying to off good old Chuck.

Speaking of Chuck, the film does tend towards the more human side of Cannon Bronson. The man even shows actual human emotions (compare his reaction to the murders here to the way he reacts to his “girlfriend’s” death in Death Wish 3), and some actual vulnerability. He’s still a cruel and unusual asskicker, of course, he just gets there from a somewhat more human frame of mind.

The script tends to meander a bit too much for the film to work as an actual thriller, and we mostly get a series of vaguely related scenes that tell a story only in so far as you can pretend it does. Fortunately, most of these scenes are rather entertaining to watch, be it Snodgress bathtub-murdering a judge in a way physics only allow on planet Cannon, or the clever little three-party finale that does remind one that Thompson can still be pretty good at this sort of thing – and probably could be for a whole film if only the scripts he’s working on would give him the opportunity.

All in all this adds up to a film I wouldn’t exactly recommend to the uninitiated into the cult of Bronson, or that of Cannon. It’s certainly not the best Bronson/Thompson film, but if you can get anything out of this phase of Bronson’s career, you’ll certainly not be bored by this. Or, as a wise man (that would be me) once said, “Well, I was having fun.”

By the way, Jack Murphy’s version of the titular law is “You don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.”, so there’s that too.

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