Case Number 02632


MGM // 1986 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // February 19th, 2003

The Charge

They set him up. He takes them down.

Opening Statement

A paint-by-numbers "wronged cop seeks to clear his name" action flick, Murphy's Law is a less than memorable entry in the Charles Bronson legacy. The folks at MGM rightfully give us an adequate presentation at a bargain price.

Facts of the Case

Jack Murphy (Charles Bronson) is not taking his divorce from stripper Jan (Angel Tompkins) very well. In addition to stalking her and getting drunk on a daily basis, he lets car thief Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite) whack him in the family jewels and escape and punches out annoying colleague Sgt. Ed Reineke (James Luisi). Little does he know that his life is about to take a turn for the even worse when Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress), a woman he put in prison but now freed, plots revenge with the assistance of a private investigator, Cameron (Lawrence Tierney).

When Murphy is shortly thereafter framed for the murder of his ex-wife, arrested by his nemesis Reineke, and handcuffed to car thief Arabella, he's in trouble. So what's a laconic hard-nosed cop to do? Escape from the police, hook up with his friendly retired partner, and smoke out Joan Freeman while avoiding the murderous efforts of another enemy, mobster Frank Vincenzo (Richard Romanus). What could be simpler?

The Evidence

An actor whose success came relatively late in his career, Charles Bronson (The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven) cultivated a tough-guy image when in 1974 (at the age of 53) he splashed across the American movie screen with Death Wish. Spawning four far less successful sequels, Death Wish also led Bronson to make a number of similar tough-guy/kill the bad guy films. Murphy's Law is one of those movies, with little else to recommend it.

With the direction of J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), one might have hoped that Murphy's Law would at least become an entertaining action flick. Unfortunately, at the twilight of his career Thompson made four of his last five movies with Bronson, but none showed much of an entertaining spark, and this film is no exception. In Murphy's Law, Charles Bronson is simply immobile. No matter what happens to Jack Murphy, his face just sits there like a president on Mount Rushmore. His ex-wife stripping at a sleazy club? Stone. Arabella kicks him in the jewels and runs off? Stone. He is framed for murder by a psycho? Stone! At least Clint Eastwood would squint, or spit, or wince, or let us know with some other small facial tremor of the internal forces at work. Bronson simply phones it in and collects his check, though probably having his wife Jill Ireland as co-producer was a nice inducement.

Aside from the acting deficiencies, Murphy's Law still lacks the minimal requirements of depth and coherence that we tend to expect from the genre. Other than that Murphy is a rumpled drunk, we have no idea about his background or what drives him, or why he ends up divorced (since his drinking seems to be a response and not a cause). Nor do we get any insight into what drives his distaff nemesis, aside from a wholly generic motivation, and a fuzzy one at that. Furthermore, when I realized that I was a half hour into Murphy's Law before anything of significance happened, I knew this was not a good sign. The remainder of the film unfolds in painfully predictable fashion, with the whole mobster sub-plot being an artificial way to up the degree of difficulty for Murphy's final confrontation.

Presented in both anamorphic widescreen and hack & slash formats, Murphy's Law gets a decent video transfer. I am under no illusions that MGM went to the expense of a remaster, but at least they kept the original print of Murphy's Law in good condition. The picture is clean and well saturated with color, with patches of grain, slight edge enhancement, and a softness to the image the only negatives. The audio track is unremarkable Dolby mono. Being an action picture, stereo would have been nice, but them's the breaks.

Extra content is meager, amounting to theatrical trailers for Murphy's Law, a "MGM Means Great Movies" trailer, and trailers for the DVD releases of The James Bond Collection and Thelma and Louise. Then again, I'm not sure there is much else to say about Murphy's Law, so let us give thanks for the blessed lack of bonus content.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Fortunately for our sanity, other actors balance out Bronson's bored immobility. Kathleen Wilhoite (L.A. Law, E.R., Pay It Forward) snaps off an unending stream of curses with zest and punky attitude, though the curses often seem to drop awkwardly off her lips. Carrie Snodgress (Pale Rider, Wild Things) is appropriately freaky as a homicidal psychotic, full of icy determination and casually competent with weapons as she kills her way through Murphy's Law. Also, for character actor fans, look out for the late Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) as the psycho's private eye.

Closing Statement

Even if you are looking for a popcorn action flick, or a dose of Charles Bronson, you can certainly do better than Murphy's Law. On the other hand, it might qualify for a bad movie night, or a Charles Bronson drinking game. Fortunately MGM has the good sense to price Murphy's Law as a bargain disc ($15 list). Give it a rent if you wish, but don't expect too much.

The Verdict

Jack Murphy's law is don't mess with Jack Murphy. My law is don't mess with Murphy's Law.

Review content copyright © 2003 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 87
Audio: 72
Extras: 8
Acting: 65
Story: 69
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile
Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Theatrical Trailers

* IMDb

* Charles Bronson Official Site