Lethal Weapon (1987)

19 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I suppose the “buddy-cop picture” is a genre. You know the story—two mismatched cops who work together to solve a case and form a bonding friendship along the way. There have been many of this type of movie, but “Lethal Weapon” is the best. “Lethal Weapon” is an action-packed thriller that does feature a pair of mismatched cops working together to solve a case, but also features character development and wry humor. But of course, it does have its dose of adrenaline within itself so that the film has a share of characters, comedy, and action.

Danny Glover stars as police sergeant Roger Murtaugh, an uptight family man with just a few weeks left until retirement. He’s “over the hill” now and constantly says he’s getting “too old for this sh—.“ Mel Gibson co-stars as Sergeant Martin Riggs, a loose cannon who lost his wife in a tragic accident. He blames himself for her death and even considers killing himself. Because he doesn’t think he has much to live for, he’s suicidal in the way that he doesn’t fear anything.

Murtaugh and Riggs are paired up and assigned to investigate the seemingly apparent suicide of the daughter of an ex-Vietnam War compatriot (Tom Atkins). But soon, it seems like that this death was an element of a drug smuggling plot. The leader of it is mercenary General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) and his right-hand man is the menacing, torturous Joshua (Gary Busey). Murtaugh and Riggs get into more than they expected.

But it’s not just about that, even though this plot detail is crucial (not to mention easy to follow). It’s also about the characters. We know and see clearly how Murtaugh feels about getting closer to retirement, and we also see the pain in Riggs’ eyes when he’s not making people believe he’s crazy. Then, we have the scenes in which Riggs interacts with Murtaugh’s family. They have dinner together and Riggs has a playful flirtation with Murtaugh’s teenage daughter (Traci Wolfe). But we also see how he envies Murtaugh’s home life.

A word about Riggs’ attitude—he loves to make people think he’s crazy by throwing himself in every dangerous situation he can get into as a police officer. When we first see him, he’s walking through the line of fire during a madman’s gunfire attack onto a school playground and standing dead center in the playground, opening fire at the madman. That’s when we know that he may be crazy until we see him at his home—a trailer near the beach—and realize that he thinks that he has nothing to live for due to blaming himself for the tragic death of his wife. So he does anything that no one else would do—this leads to a scene midway through the film in which he deals with a man threatening to jump from a building. This scene is played for comedy, and the payoff at the end of the scene is just fabulous.

The bad guys are genuinely threatening. Even if McAllister is a standard villain, Joshua is a real creep. This guy is so frightening that if he was in charge of the whole operation, there’d be a higher body count for this film. He proves himself to be a worthy antagonist for Riggs to encounter in the end, which is what they do, but that’s all I’m going to say about that, except this—the final action climax is the least interesting part of “Lethal Weapon” when compared to the character development and wry humor that came before it, even though other action scenes were also featured within the previous acts as well.

The action scenes are brought to life by director Richard Donner, director of “Superman.” His choreography and cinematography is outstanding in the scenes involving a shootout and an armed helicopter. When the lengthy climax comes into place, the action is exciting for a while but comes close to wearing out its welcome. But because we care about the characters and have an interesting bad guy, it’s not totally worthless.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are perfectly cast as the two heroes. They have great onscreen chemistry and become characters rather than caricatures. Mel Gibson is no stranger to action films (remember, he is Mad Max), so the real surprise is Danny Glover who previously acted in dramas like “The Color Purple.” He’s up to it.

“Lethal Weapon” has just what an audience wants in an action picture—action and comedy. First you can laugh, then something big happens, then you can relax again after that. It’s an action-thriller with a sense of humor and a sense of pace. That’s what makes the film special and different from most buddy-cop pictures.

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