Murphy’s Law (1986)
Murphy’s Law (1986)

Genre: Action and Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: April 18th, 1986 MPAA Rating: R

Director: J. Lee Thompson Actors: Charles Bronson, Kathleen Wilhoite, Carrie Snodgress, Robert F. Lyons, Richard Romanus, Angel Tompkins, Bill Henderson, James Luisi, Lawrence Tierney




hen Arabella McGee (Kathleen Wilhoite) steals Jack J. Murphy’s (Charles Bronson) car, she’s unprepared for his rapid pursuit, which results in a collision with a storefront and a confrontation in an alley. Jack’s many years as a San Francisco police officer serve him well during the chase, but Arabella manages to escape nonetheless, thanks to a well-placed kick to the lawman’s groin. It certainly doesn’t help that his stripper wife’s (Angel Tompkins) divorce proceedings have prompted him to drink heavily.

The next morning, Murphy is called to a fresh murder scene, where one of notorious pimp Vincenzo’s prostitutes has had her throat slashed. His partner Art (Robert F. Lyons) speaks only about his troublesome sexual conquest from the night before, proving to be annoying at best. But Jack’s real problems are only just beginning, as the mysterious Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress) initiates a murder spree, starting with her slimy private investigator Cameron (Lawrence Tierney). And Murphy is next on her list. “I’m gonna kill you. But first, I’m gonna put you through hell.”

Steeped in seediness and the squalor of a crime-ridden big city, “Murphy’s Law” is very much patterned from a Dirty Harry mystery, utilizing violence, nudity, a disgruntled police chief (Clifford A. Pellow as Lieutenant Nachman), reluctant partnerships, and considerable collateral damage of innocent bystanders. It’s the kind of dismal world in which nights are pelted by rain and sludge, and daytime only further exposes the untidy, unseemliness of the environment, crawling with lowlifes and corruption. Even less sympathy comes from his eventual cohort, Arabella, who coincidentally shares a cell when Murphy is framed for murder.

Arabella presents a curious conundrum, as she spouts nonstop insults that simply don’t sound authentic. Her foul-mouthed tirades lack the potency (and serious expletives) to be convincing; it’s almost as if she’s intended to be comic relief, yet her incessant derisions are rarely humorous. Most of the time, they’re grating and exhausting. If she played it straight, their “The Defiant Ones” collaboration could have carried some weight. At the very least, the pairing of such extreme opposites proves intermittently amusing; it’s easy enough to appreciate the burgeoning father/daughter relationship.

Oddly, “Murphy’s Law” combines a significant number (likely too many) of ‘80s hard-boiled cop tropes, including the vengeful killer, the frame-job, the law enforcer turned fugitive, crooked inside-men, the unlikely companion, the bitter spouse, the frequenting of strip clubs, the dependable former associate (here, embodied by Bill Henderson as Ben Wilcove), the hostage scenario, the angry mafia boss (Richard Romanus), the rape rescue, lipstick messages on mirrors, and a red herring or two. Murphy must also attempt to get to the bottom of the murderer’s motives before the authorities catch up with him. And every vehicle that gets shot at somehow explodes into an enormous ball of flame. It’s a convoluted conglomeration of concepts, all of which have been seen before – and executed with greater flair. Fortunately, the grittiness is consistent, culminating in a tense showdown (female serial killers are pretty rare) in a fantastically macabre setting (the Bradbury Building). The closing song (“Murphy’s Law” by Paul McCallum, John Bisharat, and Kathleen Wilhoite herself), however, couldn’t be a worse way to end the movie.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10