February 06, 1989 12:00 PM

Charles Bronson and Gable do have at least one thing in common: Neither considered himself much of a thespian. “I’m no actor and I never have been,” Gable once noted. Bronson has called himself “a product like a cake of soap, to be sold as well as possible.” Both built enduring careers anyway, though this new bar of Bronson may prove a harder sell than most. Kinjite, Japanese for “forbidden subjects,” casts Bronson in the kind of stoic-lawman role Gable rose above by sheer force of character in Soldier of Fortune. With craggy-face Charlie, those gleams of personality are getting harder to discern. Bronson seems carved out of wood as an L.A. cop investigating the kidnapping by pimps of the daughter of a Japanese business executive (James Pax). The cop hasn’t been feeling particularly well-disposed toward the Asian community since his own teenage daughter, newcomer Amy Hathaway, was fondled by a Japanese man on a bus. But even with his wife, played by The Mod Squad’s still lovely Peggy Lipton, Bronson doesn’t like discussing such kinjite as sex. Fortunately, director J. Lee Thompson—on a precipitous downslide from the halcyon days of The Guns of Navarone—doesn’t expect us to search Bronson’s poker face for clues. An action scene, such as the one in which Bronson forces child-raper Juan Fernandez to swallow his watch before Charlie sets fire to his pimpmobile, is worth a thousand words in this kind of movie. Still, one longs for the flinty vigor Gable might have brought to the role. Bronson has let too many formula action flicks drain the life out of him. His acting style is now limited to two expressions: combative and comatose. (R)

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