Bad Movie Tuesday: Outside the Law (2002), Cynthia Rothrock defeats the Colombian mob and their “Asian Bad Guy” in this soap operatic failure of an action movie.
MY CALL: More like an ill-written soap opera with a few fights than anything resembling an action movie, this flick squandered Cynthia Rothrock’s talents to an appalling degree. MORE MOVIES LIKE Outside the Law: Probably any Cynthia Rothrock movie from the 80s or maaaaybe early 90s would be better than this. However, I strongly recommend NOT watching Night Vision (1997). If you’re in the mood for a proper Bad Movie Tuesday I’d have to recommend you go with Dolph Lundgren, a case of beer and your best bros. Perhaps The Elementary Stylings of Kindergarten Cop 2 or Dolph Lundgren and the Curse of the Shark Lake.
I recently decided I wanted to watch a bunch of Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien, Undefeatable) movies. Well guess what? That’s surprisingly not easy to do. As it turns out just about none of her movies are affordable on Amazon to buy except for her late 90s direct-to-video stuff and similarly her older stuff is nowhere to be found on Amazon Video or Netflix. You can watch Night Vision (1997) for free with Amazon Prime, but I wouldn’t recommend it! There’s a reason it’s available and her better movies aren’t.
Still in great shape at 45 years old, queen of martial arts Rothrock plays secret agent Julie Cosgrove and the dialogue couldn’t be more rigid. It’s incredibly obvious that this is her last mission because she just won’t shut up about it–blabbing on and on about how she wants to get married and have a regular life with her secret agent partner and his immaculate hair. The conversation is so smiley and casual you’d think they were on a brunch date and not a covert mission in Colombia. But no, it’s go time. And her partner strolls across the sunny South American street in his upper-middle class outfit swinging an assault rifle at his side like he was a British dignitary with a cane. Not since In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (2011) or Night Vision (1997) can I recall even a Bad Movie Tuesday so poorly written.
After watching the first few minutes I had to check and confirm the release date was, in fact, from this century! This felt like something from 1991 like an episode of Silk Stalkings or some made-for-TV drivel of decades past. But no, it’s from 2002.
Spoiler alert: her partner with the great hair bites it when some sort of double cross transpires…it’s incredibly unclear. When she calls in to whatever nonsense agency she works for, they’re shocked (even upset) that she’s still alive.
The action in this is upsettingly bad in the early fights of the movie. They cast the queen of martial arts, but the remaining cast of goons are so inept in terms of combat choreography that when they fight she is limited to throwing one single simple kick per shot. So if she hits a guy four times in 16 seconds, expect to see four 4-second cuts ineptly edited together. We have an ace martial artist capable of so much, yet she looks no better at fighting than an extra from Starsky and Hutch. These fighting scenes are to Rothrock what a limp dorsal fin is to Shamu; just plain sad. Kind of like how Dolph Lundgren did zero punching in Shark Lake (2015), which also featured dorsal fins and a completely wasted bad ass action movie star.
Thankfully, later she faces some bad guys who can throw a spin kick of their own. They try to keep things edgy with some chain-fighting, although it’s nothing to Lucy Liu vs Ray Park in Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever (2002). It remains pretty bad, but a more “acceptable” level of bad loaded with kicks to the face…LOADS of face kicks for everyone! The fights do seem to improve as the movie progresses. However, the fights never reach the “90s Van Damme” level of quality.
The lines…wow, sooooo witty. “You read Chinese?//Enough to order take out.” Loads of bad layer-caked over more bad with bad icing. The exposition burns my ears as the dialogue explains everything that happens as if you weren’t just watching it happen yourself. And evidently this is serious–you can tell by the “international factor” typical of 80s-90s action flicks. We go from a double-cross in Colombia to Chinese goods being smuggled into south Florida by the Colombian mob to make some sort of super designer drug. Of course she just stumbled across this while trying to lay low in a random spot in Florida. The story is a bit too ambitious and reaches too far too often with no real rationale or payoff.
Director Jorge Montesi (Omen IV and loads of action TV shows) has made a lot of direct-to-TV movies and, as such, has a solid respect for simplicity. Take this film. After fleeing Colombia, agent Cosgrave buys a car, a week’s worth of groceries and a dog all at the same place. Oh, and reconnects with some Colombian cartel shenanigans just down there street from there. Quite plausible.
There are many familiar faces in this flick. Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) plays a crooked detective, Stephen Macht (The Monster Squad, Graveyard Shift) and Brad Greenquist (Pet Sematary) are crooked agents, Jeff Wincott (The Invasion, Prom Night) is a criminal, Don Harvey (Die Hard, Taken 3) is a henchman, and James Lew (Traffic, Rush Hour 2) is “the Asian bad guy.”
Bad movies put a lot of stock in “the Asian bad guy.” Just look at Kickboxer, Bloodsport and The Best of the Best—all Asian bad guys! The first bad guy who can fight in this movie is an Asian henchman–and being Asian, naturally, he had to be a martial artist. So when James Lew shows up and out kung fu-s the other Asian, we know he’s not the Asian we want to cross. Rothrock’s fight with Lew is the only remotely redeeming scene in the entire movie featuring a few decent acrobatic stunts. The only problem is that the director had no idea how to shoot scenes with people who actually knew how to fight. Way too close-up and way too many cuts. Shame. A total waste of talent.
Watch this for a good laugh with a buzz but do not, I repeat DO NOT watch this expecting to see a fun Cynthia Rothrock martial arts movie. For of all the horrible things this movie is, “that” it is not.