1990 – R – CBS/FOX
There isn’t a problem in this world that can’t be solved with a roundhouse kick, that’s what I always say. Oily faced waiter that screwed up your order? Roundhouse kick him so that he crashes onto the table next to you, sending the plate of spaghetti that snooty rich man was eating flying into the air and plopping right on his head. Jerk on his cellphone while driving cut you off? Follow him home, roundhouse kick him through his front door and then mutter a cool one liner like, “Long distance fees… applied!” as his family stares at you wide eyed in shock. If any film has taught me that, it’s Martial Law. No, not the TV series starring overweight action star Sammo Hung, I’m talking the balls to wall, star studded cast early 90’s movie!
Chad McQueen (Yes, the douche bag from The Karate Kid) “stars” as Sean Thompson, a cop who doesn’t play by the rules! As if there is another kind of cop in a 90’s action movie. Actually, he plays fairly close to the rules, but with a spin of his own. So I guess you could say he’s a cop who respects the boundaries he’s been giving, but will occasionally slightly walk abroad to the fine line of right and wrong without making it too questionable, but there was probably a more tasteful approach to resolving the situation.
Right when the movie starts, a hostage situation or a robbery… some sort of crime, has already taken place. I have to be honest, I kinda zoned out within the first few seconds. Two minutes without a martial arts fighting and you expect me to pay attention? Blasphemy! The bad guys start getting hungry and crave cheap, mediocre take out pizza from the local product placement, Domino’s. The delivery boy expects a tip, which the bad guys decide to pay… in bullets! But before they can fire any rounds off, the delivery boy proves he is a delivery man by round-housing all their weapons out of their hands and dropping these scumbags to the floor. Turns out this delivery man was none other than before mentioned Sean Thompson, enforcing justice through the L.A.P.D.’s new unit, simply called Martial Law (Hey, that’s the title of the movie!). This unit is so badarse, they are authorized to use their martial arts skills on all perps who so much as even blink at them.
Joining him on the team is Billie, played by none other than 80’s/90’s karate babe, Cynthia Rothrock and also, um… I think that’s it and quite frankly, I don’t think you need anyone else on this team. These two take on the seedy underbelly of dirty… probably Los Angeles after Sean’s lil’ bro-bro gets in cahoots with the crime kingpin of the city, Dalton Rhodes, played by David Carradine who is apparently trying to make amends for starring in Future Force. Dalton runs a “Cartel for Hire” business (and I have to wonder what his business cards look like) and when he’s not loving crime and doing crime stuff, he’s boosting cars more sophisticated than Nic Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds. And to round off how diabolically evil he is, Dalton is the last known practitioner of dim-mak, better known as the touch of death technique! Come to think of it, wasn’t there another David Carradine movie and something about the touch of death? Hmm, must be escaping my mind. Anyway, the most genius part about this whole thing is that Dalton is running his operation out of a dojo that he also uses to recruit thugs! That is almost a Bond level evil crime lord stint. This way, either all of your hired goons are going to be enthusiastic punks who can twirl some nunchucks or forth grades, so nobody would punch them.
And from here you can fill every scene with 90’s thugs (mesh tees, sleeveless jean jackets, high top sneakers… you know the kind) as they try to stop our crime fighting duo and fail miserably. But not before spewing out lines that they are going to “rough them up.” I’m sure you’re aware of this formula; Bad guy spews tough line, hero spin kicks bad guy and finally hero regurgitates a cringing one-liner so cheesy, it’s fermented. But really, would you have it any other way? Sean tries to help out his brother Michael, but the two have a meltdown in one of my favorite movie cliches of that time, the “Stay out of my life!” cliche. Sure, every movie in the 90’s did it, but when it happens, you’re always glad it did. Once Dalton is informed that Michael’s brother is a cop, he’s put to a test of loyalty and it ends pretty much how you think it would…
It’s a 90’s Martial Arts/cop movie, so of course boils down to a battle between “that guy from Kung-Fu” and Steve McQueen’s son. We all know good always triumphs over evil in these flicks, but let’s face it; we’re not watching these movies for their plots. We want to see some damn fine quality martial arts! And if there so happens to be a babe in the film, then that makes it even better and nobody delivered both of those features better than Cynthia Rothrock. And let’s be honest. That’s why we are watching this movie. The martial arts and stunt work is actually very well done and quite impressive and the plot was like someone pushed the cop movie cliche button, only falling short of the always favorite “guy-who-dies-with-only-two-days-left-to-retire” cliche. It’s a great little action flick that’ll get you up out of your seat and screaming at your television when baddies are kicked around by our two stars. I was generally rooting for them throughout the duration and wanted them to continue branding their justice!
It’s always great to revisit an era where everyone knew some sweet Ninja moves and it was the way to solve every problem. If you feel like being nostalgic for the early 90’s, in a land where violence and one-liners were the answer to every problem, then order some take out and rent Martial Law from Blockbuster (I don’t foresee those closing anytime soon…). It’ll make you think twice before stiffing the pizza delivery guy on his tip.
The Lost Highway has a black belt in cheese.