Murphy's Law ★★★

"Jack Murphy's Law...Don't fuck with Jack Murphy"

One of Cannon's better action thriller offerings. Indeed with a tighter script and a more competent director (look, I know J. Lee Thompson was a legend, but I haven't a clue what he was doing here at times. Some shots are just obscure) this could easily have been a respectable studio picture, I imagine no doubt starring someone like Michael Douglas as the framed-for-murder alcoholic cop Murphy and Madonna as his foul-mouthed street urchin sidekick Arabella McGee. Indeed I think Cannon claimed, with their inimitable penchant for publicity, to have approached Madonna for the role, but deemed her too expensive. Whilst such a daydreaming prospect is tantalising - and Douglas would arguably be a much better fit than the sixty-five-year-old Bronson - this would of course mean that we would have lost Kathleen Wilhoite in the role of McGee, and that would be a tragedy, because she really makes this film. Some people find her character and her performance annoying, but I loved it. Wilhoite rightfully approaches the role with gusto, relishing the colourful insults that appear to have been written via the découpé cut-up technique favoured by David Bowie when writing lyrics in the 1970s. How else can you explain "Snot-licking donkey fart"?! Meanwhile Bronson is well over Murtagh-levels of being 'too old for this shit' (and especially when the script has to be icky and reveal that McGee is beginning to find him attractive. Ugh, couldn't we just have had the more believable surrogate father/daughter relationship? Typical Cannon!) but he is at least look like he's having more fun here than he had on any of Death Wish sequels. Not sure about his one detective technique though, which seems to consist of sneeringly homophobic insinuations that someone is gay in order to rile them up. It's certainly not on a par with Columbo's 'Just one more thing...' trick.

I mentioned earlier that the script probably needed to be tighter for a studio movie, and that's because the plot makes little sense. For Cannon though - who had to fight for the rights to make this film in court against Hemdale - it's par for the course. The whole premise concerns newly-released psychopathic prisoner Carrie Snodgress seeking revenge for everyone she blames put her inside for murder a decade earlier. "I'm gonna kill you," she tells Jack Murphy over the phone one evening. "But first, I'm gonna put you through hell". That hell seems to consist of getting him framed for the murder of his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. Now, as revenge goes, that's pretty impressive. However, when Murphy breaks out of custody, surely her plan has gone awry? Unless of course she was relying on this turn of events (it would explain her promise that she intends to kill him, as opposed to just making him suffer), but there's just no way she could rely upon it actually happening. Further irregularities arise when she has the opportunity to kill Murphy alongside his old friend from the force at his home out in the sticks, but she of course chooses not to, preferring instead to wait until Murphy leaves and then killing his friend. Why not kill them both together? As he's an escaped prisoner, she can't possibly know that he's going to stick around in her sights long enough to clear his name and find out who is behind all this (he doesn't know it's her; he thinks it's the local mobster). He could just easily make a run for the border and evade justice. It's a plot that very much relies upon the plan to kill the leading man last, throwing all common sense and logic out of the window to get to that finale, which of course never ends well for the villain now does it?

Whilst Murphy's Law doesn't gain any awards for originality in its central pairing (the cop and criminal buddy dynamic had already been explored in 48 Hours some four years earlier; a movie that has clearly influenced this one) , it ought to at least get recognition for placing a woman in the deranged antagonist role, predating the 'don't trust women' narratives that would dominate late '80s and early '90s Hollywood with films such as Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, curiously enough two films starring Michael Douglas.

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