Outside the Law (2002)

Fear not fans of Michael Dudikoff or Jeff Speakman! Just because this matrial arts mayhem epic stars Cynthia Rothrock does’t mean she spends her time picking out pretty window treatments for her dojo or battling an evil nail salon owner! Sure she does her hair from an unflattering black to eye-gouging hideous orange, but it’s not some fashion don’t, but an attempt to evade the shadowy government agents who are after her!

And if you complain that her sitting around looking sad and whining about being alone is the stuff of those Lifetime TV movies starring some over the hill Beverly Hills 90210 or Dawson’s Creek refugee, your just being a disingenuous misogynistic turd! When was the last time that Jennie Garth pulled herself out of a depressed lost love funk and asked for blasting caps?

None of this makes Outside the Law anything more than passably generic late 90s/early 2000s direct to home video junk. The story could have easily starred any number of B and C level action icons of the time like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Gary Daniels or Jeff Wincott without any major changes. (Except maybe trading many of Rothrock’s kicks to the balls for snapped necks or dislocated knees.)

But wait! Isn’t that Jeff Wincott as the smarmy bad guy Greg? Doesn’t he overshadow Cindy? Well no, first of all he isn’t really tall enough to overshadow many folks. More importantly though, Outside the Law shows it’s capable of making the same mistakes as any of its male-centered brethren, criminally underusing the only other “name” actor in the movie. (Not counting The Wonder Years dad Dan Lauria as the crooked sheriff who simply disappears in the last third of the movie.)

Wincott, star of his own series of straight to video action movies like Open Fire and Last Man Standing, even teamed up with Rothrock in Martial Law II: Undercover, but inexplicably in Outside the Law he doesn’t do anything but murder a woman and shoot one of his own men. He literally doesn’t break a sweat, just standing around barking out orders and threats as the middle man drug distributor working with South American drug lords. The most shocking thing in the film is that Rothrock’s wimpy male sidekick kills him by shooting him once when he wasn’t looking! It’s like hiring Monet to stand around and watch someone paint a house!

As erstwhile DEA agent Julie Cosgrove, Rothrock has several opportunities to demonstrate her kicking prowess and make us forget we aren’t getting a showdown with her and Wincott. Rothrock, an accomplished martial artist and champion in real life, acquits herself quite well in the fight scenes as you might expect. Her big showdown is with a Asian martial arts expert that Wincott’s cartel partners bring in to kill her and she gets knocked around pretty good before gaining the upper hand as is to be expected. (After knocking him out though, she labors to drag him out of the warehouse before it explodes which seemed a bit odd. Someone like Steven Seagal would have stabbed the guy in the head and left him, but if we are being honest, he probably wouldn’t have been in any shape to drag the guy out anyway.)

Much like her male counterparts, Rothrock’s screen presence leaves much to be desired as she adopts the same sneering expression and monotone line delivery that afflict most of these working class action heroes. It’s almost as if they all took acting classes from Chuck Norris. And failed!

The plot is a variation of the “hero on the run from her past getting mixed up helping some people  victimized by the bad guys who run the town she’s passing trough” story.  You know – classic Shakespeare stuff. She doesn’t want to stay and help, but she just can’t turn her back on the injustice of it all. Next thing you know, she’s conducting surveillance and planting time bombs throughout the bad guys’ drug warehouse.

Meanwhile she is trying to cope with the death of her fiancé which occurred during a mission gone wrong in Colombia. He left a notebook with incriminating information in it. One thing that was never clear is just what her old bosses were up to, why they were so desperate to find her and why she didn’t trust them. Presumably she blamed them for the mission being a set up, but if the first time something shoots craps on you, you’re pointing the finger at your boss, you probably should have already quit that job.

The end of the movie confirms they had nothing to do with the set up which made you wonder why all this time spent with them saying sinister things and tracking her down at all costs. And nothing was ever resolved as to what was so important about her boyfriend’s notebook.

If Outside the Law is your first exposure to Cynthia Rothrock (it’s actually one of her later films), she more than holds her own with her male action star contemporaries. Which is unfortunate when you realize it means a performance devoid of personality, mundane action scenes (she beats up the same hapless thugs over and over), a story at once routine and lazy (A construction buddy of Rothrock’s friend has a bunch of stolen dynamite and blasting caps to hand out? Rothrock’s friend just happens to have the computer skills to break the cartel’s computer encryption even though he works in a restaurant?) and minimal production values (no exploding cars or helicopters?) and, with apologies to Dan Lauria, a disposable supporting cast.

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