Monday, December 6, 2010

Film Review: MURPHY'S LAW (1986, J. Lee Thompson)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Charles Bronson, Kathleen Wilhoite (ER, NURSE BETTY, THE EDGE), Carrie Snodgress (PALE RIDER, THE FURY), Robert F. Lyons (DEATH WISH 2, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW), Richard Romanus (MEAN STREETS, HEAVY METAL, OSCAR), Lawrence Tierney (RESERVOIR DOGS, DILLINGER, THE PROWLER). Produced by Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, and Jill Ireland. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE, CAPE FEAR, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN).
Tag-line: "They stole everything he had. Now its time to pay."
Best one-liner: SEE REVIEW.

In a familiar, darkened alley:

"Psst- you know Murphy's Law?"
–"Sure, sure. 'Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.'"
"Actually, you're wrong."
–"Well, wouldn't that merely prove the law?"
"No. You wanna hear what Murphy's Law really is?"
–"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about a Golan/Globus/Bronson flick that you need to check out, immediately."
–"I've seen most of those already- DEATH WISH II, DEATH WISH 3, ASSASSINATION, MESSENGER OF DEATH..."
"Whoa-whoa- You've seen MESSENGER OF DEATH, but not MURPHY'S LAW? What the fuck is wrong with you... scrotum cheeks?"
–"What did you just call me?"
"I called you scrotum cheeks, ya... snot-lickin' donkey fart."
–"Hold the phone- wherever did these remarkable insults come from?"
"What the hell have we been talking about... toejam?– MURPHY'S goddamned LAW!"
–"All of these vivid disparagements derive from a single source?"
"Lemme lay it out for ya. Charles Bronson is Jack Murphy. He's one tough cop, but his wife left 'im. He's subsequently been hittin' the bottle a little too much. A bottle of Frangelico, to be precise.

Note the Frangelico. No sign of any Mandom, though.

Well, that's actually just in one scene, but I'm forced to assume that whenever I see him with a flask, he is knockin' back some of the rich, Hazelnutty delights that Frangelico offers the discerning dessert liqueur aficionado.

Anyway, he's not doin' so well.

Somebody stole his car–"
–"Somebody stole his car? Are you thinking of 'It's MY CAR!' from DEATH WISH 3?"
"No, I'm not, and don't interrupt me again. Kathleen Wilhoite (a scrappy dame who could have been the next Lori Petty had she played her cards right) is the car thief. Remember that, cause it's important later. She gives Bronson the classic Cannon low-blow and escapes.

Bronson recovers from a well-delivered bop to the Bazzinis.

Anyway, Bronson's wife is a stripper who kinda looks like Vanna White.

("I'm a dancer." –"You call THAT dancing?!").
Bronson views this with disdain:

Anyway, somebody with a grudge KILLS her- and frames Bronson. Bronson is arrested, handcuffed in lockup to the same car-thieving malfeasant Kathleen Wilhoite, and then ESCAPES!"
–"So, it's like THE DEFIANT ONES, but with a foul-mouthed spitfire instead of a black guy."
"Listen, it's not just any foul-mouthed spitfire- it's a Cannon Films foul-mouthed spitfire."
–"Ah, you refer to those magnificent insults you abused me with, earlier."
"Precisely. You want another sampling?"
–"Lay it on me."
"Pervert. Scrotum cheeks. Jism breath. Camel crotch. Snot-lickin' donkey fart. Dick Tracey. Two-inch-pecker. Scumbag cop. Faggot. Toejam. Monkey vomit. Fart brains. Shall I go on? Slimeball. Suck a doorknob, ya homo.

Dickbrain. Jock itch. Penis head. Kiss my squirrel. Kiss my pantyhose. José. Buffalo shit. Booger bits. Sperm bank. Mutant. Asshole. Snot-suckin' garbage dump. Airwolf. Barf bag. Dog snot. Motor mouth. Dog piss. Sperm count. Dinosaur dorks.

Douche bag. Anchovy breath. Pepperoni breath. Weenie roast."
–I don't believe I've ever heard so many creative put-downs in all my life!"
"Well, now I'll get into the special reserve: Dildo nose. Butt crust. Pubic hair."
–"'Pubic hair?' Are you serious?"
"Yeah. As in, 'Hey, pubic hair, I'm talkin' to ya!'"
–"Is that some sort of crass allusion to Bronson's stache?"
"Come to think of it, it might be. But that's not all: there's cheerful homophobia (Bronson: 'Come on admit it, you're a dyke'),

light-hearted misogyny,

random, anti-Italian sentiment,

a Lawrence Tierney cameo,

a mobster with a hearing aid, a notice of divorce... from the Supreme Court, pleather vests, a showdown filmed at the cavernous apartment dwelling of J.F. Sebastian from BLADE RUNNER, a closing song- called 'Murphy's Law'- that is so jazzy, it practically reinvents the word, and the following poster which randomly appears:

which I wish could hang on every wall in my home."
–"Wow, it sounds good. And I kinda want that poster, too."
"See what I mean? And do you remember that scene in DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN? The one where Bronson says 'I'm MAKIN' a SANDWICH!'"
–"Oh yeah, how could I forget!"
"Well there's kind of a similarly-themed scene here, too. One of MURPHY'S LAW's greatest strengths is the dialogue. Dale Morgan Hickman- who also wrote DEATH WISH 4- is a literary titan to be reckoned with. For example, Wilhoite asks Bronson if he'd like a sandwich, and the following transpires:

Would you like a sandwich?

Come on... I can't be the only one thinking of Samuel Beckett."
–"Funny, I was gonna say Pinter- there's a bit of an underlying menace to it, don't you think?"
"I'd say you're missing the point. Something about the dialogue- it takes on a greater significance than any other element in the film. Look at this:

Maybe the entire idea of a female villain was devised so that they could use this specific line of dialogue. I mean, look at the care which was put into the insults. It's a literary film. One where the words matter."
–"Maybe you go a bit too far."
"Maybe I do- but maybe it's just the kind of sincere devotion that MURPHY'S LAW cultivates in its viewers."
–"Well, I don't know. I guess I'll have to see it for myself."
"Do that."
"One more thing-"
"Chicken's good, mayo's bad, AND DON'T FUCK WITH JACK MURPHY!"
–"Words to live by, I think."

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Truly belongs in the so bad it's good Hall of Fame. Talk about your paycheck movies. Yeesh. Still, vintage Cannon!

Sean Gill said...

Now that I've finally seen it, I don't know where MURPHY'S LAW has been all my life. The only Bronson/Cannon collaborations I haven't seen are now 10 TO MIDNIGHT and KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, both of which I eagerly await. Cannon never fails to entertain!

Kenny8 said...

I just noticed the jazzy end credits song is performed by co-star Wilhoite

Sean Gill said...


Wow! I hadn't noticed that– I see now that Wilhoite apparently has a side music career, as well.