Murphy's Law: If anything could possibly go wrong, it will.
Murphy's Second Law: Don't mess with Jack Murphy. (Substitute the usual word for `mess.')
Murphy's Law is a lot better than some people would have you believe. Yeah, yeah, it's a Charles Bronson film from the Eighties, a period when a lot of film enthusiasts sniffed that Bronson was little more than a stuffed dummy who phoned in his performances. Bronson is one of those actors who make condescension drip from the lips of some cineastes.
Charles Bronson was no typical Hollywood actor. He didn't have to be. With that worn-out, weary, tough face he could set a scene just by being there. Bronson was Bronson, and we knew the kind of taciturn, honest, relentless character he'd be. Bronson was a private man, kept to himself, was realistic about his talents and proud enough to deliver the goods. With all that said, you either kind of like his star movies, or at least some of them, or you kind of don't. Murphy's Law is one I like.
Jack Murphy is a police detective on the downslide. His wife, a stacked stripper at a gentlemen's club who fancies herself a dancer, has just divorced him. Murphy doesn't want to let her go, drinks himself into a stupor most nights and shows up for work with stains on his rumpled suit and bad breath. Then his wife is killed and he's arrested for her murder. Jack Murphy knows he must find out who the real murderer is, so he breaks out of jail. While he tries to identify the killer, the killer bumps off one person after another who helps Murphy or who was associated with him. Early in the movie we know who the killer is (this is no spoiler), a psycho named Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgrass). Murphy put her behind bars ten years ago and now she's out. She's ready for some wet revenge. She leaves corpses in her wake. She pumps iron with a vengeance. She smokes. She's also handy with a garrote, a cross bow and a pistol. Never, never take a bath with her.
With just this as a plot Murphy's Law might have been an efficient, violent and reasonably entertaining Bronson movie. What I like about it is the gimmick -- the relationship between Murphy and a foul-mouthed young thief named Arabella McGee (played by Kathleen Wilhoit). Murphy had been handcuffed to Arabella at the stationhouse after he was arrested. When he broke out he had to take her along with him. A movie cliché? Sure. I think it works because of Murphy's tough stoicism and Arabella's creative and energetic profanity. There's nice chemistry between Bronson and Wilhoit. Wilhoit looks more like a tomboy than a cutesy starlet, more a gamin rough around the edges. She's a good actress and holds her own with Bronson's screen charisma. When the handcuffs finally come off thanks to Arabella's lock-picking skills, she decides to stick around with Murphy. If he can clear his name, he'll clear hers as being an accomplice in the escape. And off they go, with Murphy now fighting a three-front war. Freeman is after him. A cop who hates his guts is after him. And a mob smoothie he beat up is after him. The climax is a rough battle between Murphy and Freeman in a dark, gloomy building already loaded with some of her corpses. Arabella proves useful. Murphy proves capable.
The movie looks good on DVD. There are no extras of any consequence.