Monday, 14 December 2009
MURPHY’S LAW (1986)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Gail Morgan Hickman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Carrie Snodgress & Kathleen Wilhoite
Murphy’s Law: If it can possibly go wrong, it will.
Jack Murphy’s Law: Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy!
Murphy’s Law is one of the better, if not best, 80s Charles Bronson thrillers: a fun, tight and often violent pulpy crime picture. Sure a lot of his 80s and 90s work became somewhat indecipherable, Bronson just playing Bronson no matter what the picture was, the films often being sold as some variation of the Death Wish formula to cash in on Bronson’s successful franchise. While Murphy’s Law does feature Bronson in a tough guy role and regular bursts of action and violence, this flick varies things slightly by adding a foul mouthed female sidekick, Bronson as a down and out loser and a wicked villain in the female form of off-her-rocker Carrie Snodgress.
She plays a recently released criminal with a history of mental illness, who is now out to kill the cops that send her down. Toned up, handy with a gun and showing a complete lack of mercy she gets down to gunning down those who sent her down. Sparing Murphy so she can turn his life upside down first, she kills his wife and her new lover and sets Murphy up for the killing. Since he’s been a drunk pretty much ever since his wife left him, and prone to stalking her, and with fellow officers fed up with his insubordinate ways, Murphy is arrested and things don’t look good for him. On top of this he keeps bumping into foul mouthed thief McGee (Wilhoite) who for reasons only a 80s action film could come up with, ends up in the same holding cell as Murphy handcuffed to him. Seeing his chance to escape and clear his name, the two break out and form an unstable alliance as they try to track down the killer before being caught again.
Throw in some vicious gangsters Murphy has also managed to piss off (and who can make an appearance in the final gun battle) and you’ve actually got a about three films in one: a serial killer flick, a buddy flick and an action flick. Yet, surprisingly it all kind of works and makes for pleasant, action packed viewing. J. Lee Thompson made around eight flicks with Bronson (including the equally underrated Messenger of Death) and the two obviously had a groove that helped produce gems like Murphy’s Law. Sure, there is a fair amount of 80s ludicrousness such as Murphy stealing a police helicopter while still chained to McGee, then crashing it into a drug den just so he can then gun them all down with an M-16. But on its on pulpy terms, Murphy’s Law is solid entertainment. The dialogue is sharp, not least Wilhoite’s continuous foul language (which adds some comedy) and Bronson is great as the not so great Jack Murphy. In fact, his character is a bit of an ass, messing things up more than he fixes them and Bronson actually seems to be savoring the chance to play a drunk. Plus, the interaction with him and Wilhoite is pleasantly engaging, the two making a very odd couple for an action flick.
In addition, having a female villain is a refreshing dynamic and Snodgress is excellent as the hell bent hereon, totally believable as a woman on a violent war path. Thompson also stages some impressive action, proceedings climaxing in an extended shootout in a dark and deserted hotel. Excitingly staged and filmed, getting a great atmospheric feel out of the setting, there is mucho crossbow and shotgun blazing action and a great kiss-off one liner for Bronson.
Certainly a case of “they don’t make them like this anymore” which all adds to the enjoyment of Murphy’s Law. It may be a bit of a mish-mash but there is enough tough talk, pulp noir and violent action to make this one of Bronson’s most entertaining.