Should I Watch..? Lethal Weapon
What's the big deal?
Lethal Weapon is an action comedy thriller film released in 1987 and stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched LAPD cops. Directed by the veteran Richard Donner and written by Shane Black, the film became the first in a series of four films featuring the characters Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) - all of which were commercial successes. The movie was also well received by critics and in the years since, has proved influential to a number of imitators like Bad Boys and Rush Hour. It would go on to take more than $120 million and even earn itself a nomination for an Academy Award. Since the fourth film came out in 1998, the series has been on hiatus but Warner Bros. have announced a possible reboot without either of its leading men.
What's it about?
LAPD officer Roger Murtaugh recently celebrated his 50th birthday and is starting to worry about his advancing years. However, he is shaken from his troubles after receiving a call from an old friend, Michael Hunsaker, who wants him to investigate a suicide - that of his daughter Amanda. It soon transpires that Amanda had taken drugs laced with drain cleaner, making her death a homicide. Unfortunately for Murtaugh, he finds himself saddled with a new partner - suicidal ex-Special Forces turned LAPD officer Martin Riggs, who has spiralled into a depression after the recent death of his wife.
With neither man seeing eye-to-eye, their investigation stumbles across a murky world of prostitution, heroin smuggling and murder led by retired general Peter McAllister and his shadowy henchman Mr Joshua. But with Murtaugh feeling his age and Riggs losing his will to live, will either man live long enough to see justice done?
Sergeant Martin Riggs
Sergeant Roger Murtaugh
General Peter McAllister
Release Date (UK)
28th August, 1987
Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
What's to like?
On paper, this must have sounded like a basic straight-up shooter of a picture but you can always rely on Shane Black to conjure up something a little off-kilter. The chemistry between Gibson and Glover is tangible and makes great viewing as they bicker and argue but deliver in the action scenes, of which there are plenty. The biggest surprise is Gibson who delivers a powerful performance as Riggs, whose grief and mental instability threatens to get the better of him throughout the movie. Glover, as the devoted family man questioning his future, also gives the role his all and this makes the interplay between the two leads so entertaining. It also makes the action scenes a bit more interesting and even personal.
The actual case never allows the action to dominate, though, even if it is your standard sort of fare for this type of movie. Even the soundtrack, produced by Eric Clapton and Mark Kamen, is pretty good and underscores the film's more dramatic moments well. But this is without doubt the Danny & Mel show, creating such good chemistry that it's no surprise they could replicate it again and again for the sequels. They really do behave as though they've known each other for years and rise above the frankly generic action film they find themselves in.
- The first film in history to feature a mobile phone. It can be seen when Murtaugh uses it to call his wife to tell her about Amanda Hunsaker's death and also when Murtaugh calls Dr Woods about Riggs' insanity.
- Legendary stuntman Dar Robinson, who worked on the film, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident just after filming had finished. The film is dedicated to his memory.
- Gibson was 30 at the time of filming but his character was supposed to be 38. By contrast, Glover was 40 at the time but his character was supposed to be 50!
What's not to like?
Whilst it may have been ground-breaking at the time, Lethal Weapon has aged about as well as a crystal meth addict. There is a horrible sense of cliché to it - the set-up, the dialogue, even the case - and although the reason for that is because this was the film to popularise such matters, it does feel derivative these days. Anyone who has seen the likes of Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hrs. or any of the Rush Hour films knows exactly what to expect.
In many ways, it reminded most of Die Hard in terms of action and comedic content due to Bruce Willis' sweaty charm and one-liners. Of course, this is no bad thing but in what is basically a jacked-up police procedural, it didn't feel right - cops aren't supposed to be responsible for causing traffic chaos or panic on the streets during a shoot-out. They're supposed to be the good guys and while Glover fits the part, Gibson's wide-eyed maniac seems too dangerous to be let out in public. It stretches its contrivances a little too far for my liking and unwittingly set the standard for buddy-cop films ever since. Even the sequels seem to get bigger, louder and more explosive.
Should I watch it?
It might sound as though I have a downer on Lethal Weapon but I don't really - it's a bombastic blend of action thriller and odd-couple comedy that does just enough to make it sound out from the crowd. I just regret the fact that its imitators followed the formula so closely that the original now feels generic. However, one thing that this movie will always have is that wonderful double act leading proceedings and that is something you can't simply copy...
Great For: nostalgic 80's fans, Shane Black's career, formulaic action films
Not So Great For: breaking the genre mold, quiet nights in
What else should I watch?
The sequels offer more of the same but with a greater number of supporting cast members. Lethal Weapon 2 sees Riggs & Murtaugh go after South African drug-smuggling diplomats and throws Jo Pesci into the mix as a hyperactive whistle-blower. Lethal Weapon 3 sees Riggs & Murtaugh go after a rogue cop selling impounded weapons on the black market and adds Rene Russo to the mix as an Internal Affairs agent. Lethal Weapon 4 sees Riggs & Murtaugh go after Chinese people smugglers and adds Chris Rock to the mix as a rookie detective working alongside them. Did I mention how formulaic these films were?
If you're ever tired of Riggs and Murtaugh (and after these four films, you might be) then Hollywood has no end of buddy-cop films lined up for your attention from the slightly less action orientated Beverly Hills Cop franchise, the heavily stylised Bad Boys and the never-should-have-got-past-the-drawing-board disaster Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, a film so bad that even star Sylvester Stallone regretted making it. However, my favourite remains the Rush Hour franchise - Chris Tucker's annoying loud-mouth is paired up with Jackie Chan's detective from China and the two of them combine really well, even if the film isn't really stretching their acting chops. It's about having fun and you have plenty watching any of those three movies.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox