Chad McQueen's performance in MARTIAL LAW may bring about a national moratorium on acting careers for the offspring of the rich and famous. In every department, he's outclassed by his foxy female costar Cynthia Rothrock, who could become the first female superstar of martial arts movies.
Will straight arrow Sean Thompson (McQueen) be able to stop his troubled young brother Michael (Andy McCutcheon) from succumbing to the dangerous lure of easy money? Why doesn't this mixed-up kid want to be an upright cop like his resolutely square brother? Although the two brothers share a love
for the martial arts and although Sean bails his younger sibling out of a scrape with the DA, Michael is recruited directly from a karate class into a stolen-auto crime ring headed by Dalton Rhodes (David Carradine). We know Dalton is a tough boss when he kills Michael's partner for abandoning a
purloined luxury vehicle during a police chase.
While Sean and Billie Blake (Cynthia Rothrock), his partner and girlfriend, pursue the trail of stolen automobiles, little brother Michael boosts his first car and arouses the jealousy of Faster Brown (V.C. Dupree), who's been fired by Rhodes. Meanwhile, the crimelord has been parrying with an
Asian mogul whom he tricks into a double-or-nothing business deal before killing the tycoon's massive bodyguard. Chasing crooks around L.A.'s Greek Theater, Sean bends the law and allows Michael to escape, while Billie discovers the corpse of the sumo bodyguard. After Sean learns that this body
bears the fearsome Tong Lin tatoo, he and Billie are determined to defeat the foreign menace.
Branching out from appropriating Mercedes Benzes, Dalton agrees to an arms deal with a right-wing renegade colonel named Kramer (Rick Walters). The plots thickens as Sean's informant is bombed to death, and sneaky Faster Brown snitches to Dalton Rhodes that Michael is the brother of a cop. To
test his loyalty, Rhodes asks him to kill the big mouth. Letting the loose-lipped stoolie escape proves to be a fatal mistake, because Rhodes knocks off Faster Brown and then employs the deadly Tong Lin death-move on Michael. Secretly joining Rhodes's band of cutthroats, grief-stricken Sean hopes
to avenge Michael's death and hasten the downfall of Dalton.
With all those fists and feet flying, the heavily detailed plot mechanism of MARTIAL LAW never really kicks into high gear. Weighted down by exposition that the screenwriter handles peremptorily, the film only comes to life when mayhem is being perpetrated.
On the plus side, the martial arts moves of both McQueen, son of late superstar Steve McQueen, and Rothrock are technically exemplary. Their combination slugfests are particularly energetic, but they're staged with a lack of imagination by the director. No element in this film really lifts it
above the level of a predictable chopsockey potboiler except for the welcome sight of lean-and-mean Carradine recalling his "Kung Fu" days, this time as a villain. Subtly underplaying, Carradine creates an icy portrait of a man for whom murder is just another business maneuver.
For a martial arts movie to stand out, the action sequences must burn with an extra urgency or the performances sizzle with an extra intensity. Unfortunately, McQueen is a liability that MARTIAL LAW cannot overcome. Fair of face but rather squat of form, he could barely qualify as a sidekick on a
TV police show like "Hunter." As a leading man, he exhibits none of the low-key charisma or sexiness of his famous father. Nor does he have the sinuous body language that allows another unlikely action star, Steven Seagal, to triumph over his non-matinee idol looks. On the other hand, Rothrock has
flair, presence, and discernible acting ability. Whenever MARTIAL LAW focuses on her, it really seems to have its feet in the right place; this girl could really kick her way to stardom.
Without any big-budget special effects, explosions, or snappy gimmickry to distinguish it, MARTIAL LAW fails to stand out from the crowd of action flicks already falling off the shelves of video stores everywhere. As an action movie, it trips over its own plot too often--that kind of
clumsy-footedness is hard to overlook in a martial arts movie. (Excessive violence, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Chad McQueen's performance in MARTIAL LAW may bring about a national moratorium on acting careers for the offspring of the rich and famous. In every department, he's outclassed by his foxy female costar Cynthia Rothrock, who could become the first female s… (more)