He’s a cop. She’s a thief. Together, they’re running for their lives.
Though his career had several acts — the Tough Guy Character Role act, the Hollywood Leading Man Act, the Western Act — my favorite of all of the acts in Charles Bronson’s body of work is his Cannon Act. Throughout the 1980s, Bronson was the leading man of choice for my beloved Cannon Films, the minor major that churned out a ton of low-budget genre trash during the decade. From the Death Wish sequels to the truly sleazy likes of Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects and 10 to Midnight, Bronson’s movies at Cannon are violent, exploitative schlock with a real ugly streak. One of the schlockiest and ugliest of those films, 1986’s Murphy’s Law, is one of the last of the Bronson/Cannon pictures to make its way onto Blu-ray, this time courtesy of Twilight Time.
Bronson is Jack Murphy, an alcoholic cop who plays by his own rules. (I know, right?) When a woman he put in prison years ago (played by Carrie Snodgress of The Fury) tries to exact revenge by framing him as she commits a series of murders — including Murphy’s ex-wife, now a stripper — he is put under arrest by his own department. With the help of Arabella, a homeless thief with the cleanest potty mouth you’ll ever hear (played by Kathleen Wilhoite of Roadhouse fame), Murphy escapes and he and his new partner go on the run to clear his name and bring down the real killer.
Murphy’s Law marks the sixth (of nine!) collaborations between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson, who made more movies for Cannon than I think any other filmmaker. It’s not their best pairing, but it certainly belongs somewhere in the upper half of the movies they made together. It’s as violent and sleazy and stupid as ever, with gratuitous nudity and scenes of characters who have no impact on the story being blown away thrown in for their own sake. It’s somewhat lighter than most of Bronson’s ‘80s output, too, mostly thanks to the presence of Wilhoite’s character, who spends the entirety of the running time outdoing her own terrible insults: “butt crust,” “sperm bank,” “doorknob” and “snot-licking donkey fart” are just some of the incredibly stupid things the actress is made to utter. Still, her presence adds some levity to the proceedings, particularly in the presence of perpetually grim-faced Bronson. The movie does that thing where it introduces partners who spend the whole movie annoying and insulting each other, but it’s nice for Bronson to have someone to bounce off of for a change.
Even the levity of the dynamic between Bronson and Wilhoite can’t undo the ugliness of the movie, though, as it’s still a film about violence and people who can’t stand the world or each other. A lot of Bronson’s work at Cannon can be called misogynistic, and accurately so. Murphy’s Law attempts to combat some of that both by giving a woman one of the main hero roles and by making the villain a woman, in this case Carrie Snodgress basically playing Sondra Locke from Sudden Impact minus the rape motivation. I can’t tell if that’s progressive — a woman can be just as much of an unhinged killer as the men who usually play action movie villains — or just more misogynistic. I’m all for equal opportunity psychosis, but there’s something about watching Bronson kill a woman right after saying “ladies first” that seems pretty ugly. Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen so many other Cannon films and I know this sort of thing is not uncommon.
The Bronson/Cannon library has been split across a number of distributors, with some going to Olive Films, some going to Shout! Factory and just a few going to Twilight Time. Like the majority of their releases, Murphy’s Law is receiving a limited run of 3,000 units; once they’re gone, the Blu-ray will be more or less out of print. The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in full 1080p HD that offers natural colors, a good amount of detail and stable, consistent black levels. That’s important when as many scenes take place at night and in dark locations as do here. There is a lossless mono audio track that gets the job done without blowing anyone away; dialogue is always clear and the action effects have a fair amount of punch. As is the case with pretty much all Twilight Time discs, an alternate audio track offering the isolate score can also be selected.
Star Kathleen Wilhoite and historian/disc producer Nick Redman of Twilight Time sit down for a terrific commentary track that’s well worth listening to for any fan of the film. Wilhoite admits to having not seen the movie in 30 years, but she’s exactly who you hope she’ll be: funny, relaxed, energetic and very open about her career and feelings about making the film, all of which are positive. She’s got some enjoyable stories and is generally a blast to listen to, with Redman serving as a strong ballast to keep the conversation moving. The original theatrical trailer for the movie is also included.
If you’ve never seen a Bronson/Cannon joint, I don’t think this is the one I would start with, especially at Twilight Time’s higher than average price point. But if you’re a fan and a collector of these movies like I am, you’ll no doubt appreciate both the movie and Twilight Time’s usual attention to quality. The commentary is great and the film is…well, it’s Murphy’s Law. No other explanation is required.