The Lethal Weapon Quadrilogy Quartet At A Glance

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As we find out now, Mel Gibson wasn't acting after all.  Should the Lethal Weapon movies be part of the general Mel boycott?  Probably, but what the hell.  Besides, as James Cameron's been silent on Schwarzenegger's political aspirations, we haven't heard Richard Donner weigh in on the whole Passion thing.  But Gibson's just a punk director compared to Donner who's done something even good buddy Spielberg hasn't yet done, and that is directing all four Lethal Weapons.  Hold on a minute... Anyway, the point is, let us take a moment to look back and reflect on what has been quite a wild ride indeed, cinematically speaking.

LETHAL WEAPON (1): A SCUZZY DRUG RING

It's the one that's most like a normal movie!  And a Christmas movie to boot.  Not quite up there with A Christmas Story, but it's in the ballpark, considering that each has a number of memorable scenes.  Who among us didn't feel slightly empowered by the drug bust in the Christmas tree lot?  Or remember at least being TV trailer'd to death by the big jump from the building?  Oh sure, it's not a big deal now, and they did have the giant inflatable mattress thingie.  Whatever happened to the guy he jumped with, anyway?

This is probably the least campy movie made from a Shane Black script, and it strikes a nice balance between character development and scenes of BIG ACTION.  The movie for the most part puts its own nice, forgivable spin on the old movie clichés, but even it can't help but succumb to the old Save the Baddest Bad Guy for Last rule.  As it turns out, the dad from Dharma and Greg has a dark side after all!

It was soon after the release of 'Lethal Weapon' that The Five got together: Richard Donner, Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Walter Hill and David Giler all collaborated to produce Tales From The Crypt for HBO.  Rumor has it that, due to their recent track records, Walter Hill and David Giler are going to be edged out and replaced by Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  As I said it's just a rumor; maybe someone with more inside information can speak to this?

Oh yeah, gotta love that end credit song.  Well, it was the 80s, after all.  See, they weren't sure if this was going to be a hit or not, so they skimped on the End Credit Song part of the budget.  They would make up for this in the second installment with George Harrison!!  George Harrison, for God's sake!  Guess there's some peace and love in betwixt the flying bullets after all...

Motif: Like Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and others before him, Donner uses a clip of a Looney Tunes cartoon to contrast with gut-wrenching drama.  Especially depressing here because a Christmas Looney Tunes from the 70s is used; clearly not from the Golden Age.

See also: Fort Apache The Bronx for similar BIG cop-on-the-edge ACTION.

***1/2

LETHAL WEAPON 2 - APARTHEID

The feel-good summer hit of 1989, for those of us who care about such things.  It was a bad summer for Warner Bros. all around, no matter how you look at it.  Like most moviegoers I used to think this one was the best, but then a school of thought claiming the first one's the better movie emerged and I found myself sucked into it.  Especially all this business tacked on after the fact about the South African bad guys ruining Riggs' life in the first movie.  They do tend to drive home how Diplomatic Immunity can be used for ill (as well as good).  Still, there's some good BIG ACTION setpieces here, and the filmmakers take a risk by stylistically blurring the more expensive ones.  Favorite scenes: well, who can forget the legendary toilet bomb?  My favorite moment, though, has to be the scene in which Danny Glover pretends to apply for a South African visa.  The expression on his face when he first walks in is priceless.  And he probably still gets flak for it.

Careers hurt: Patsy Kensit

Careers helped: Jeffrey Boam

New Character: Joe Pesci as Leo Getz

Motif: The Lethal Weapon Orchestra opens the film with an homage to Looney Tunes!!

***

LETHAL WEAPON 3 - POLICE CORRUPTION

For me, the weakest of the series.  When I first saw it in the theater I wanted to like it, but I found myself thinking over and over "You know, any other movie couldn't get away with this, but since it's Lethal Weapon..."  The Uranus joke, for example.  As you might remember from news reports about the film's filming, many vacant buildings were blown up just for the movie!  That's how beloved this series was and still is, my friends and enemies.

Plot wise, this time the boys uncover a corruption ring, rather by accident as it would seem.  They first grab onto a thread of the unraveling corruption patchwork quilt when they witness an armored car job, which of course leads to BIG ACTION.  They also try venturing into Boyz 'n the Hood territory with less success.  For some reason Jeffrey Boam is credited here three times; must've been re-write trouble.  Fellow screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen wouldn't really come into his own until hooking up with Luc Besson, though.

We witness here the introducing, the incorporating, rather, of Rene Russo into the Lethal Weapon family, who starts out as a mild-mannered Internal Affairs person but ends up wanting a piece of the BIG ACTION, between the kicking and the shooting and the getting it on, and the not waiting for backup and all of that.  And you might not know it to look at it, but I think this was the breakthrough role for husky character actor Stuart Wilson.  Crikey!  I didn't know he was a Brit!  England's answer to Brian Dennehy!  Anyway, he'd eventually find a home more with director Martin Campbell than with Donner or even Martin Scorsese, for goodness sake.

Political Activism: Look closely for the 'Fur is Murder' sticker on the police lockers.  Then, contemplate how much lumber was destroyed in the fiery finale.

See also: Freebie and the Bean for comparable BIG MOTORCYCLE ACTION.

New Character: Rene Russo as Lorna Cole

**

LETHAL WEAPON 4 - CHINA (AND JET LI)

It's a meaner, not exactly leaner (127 minutes!!!) Lethal Weapon, and this time, unlike in the 3rd chapter when someone ends up rolling around on the highway, no one stops for them.  They get run over.

We know the Christopher Guest movies are entirely improvised, or rather based on an extemporaneous structure, but portions of the Lethal Weapon movies also seem improvised, and normally it works.  Here it doesn't.  Take, for example, the reparteé between Riggs and Murtaugh after the introduction of Chris Rock's character, Detective Lee Butters.  Talk about a struggle!  There's also a subplot involving a Murtaugh family secret which leads to some interesting scenes of awkwardness.

They're probably ending this at the right time, scheduling conflicts aside.  I don't recall offhand if Mel can run like he did in Ransom, but during the BIG ACTION chase scene I couldn't help but notice Danny Glover's fillings.  Too old for this $hit, indeed!  One reason I like this installment is because Dr. Stephanie Woods finally gets her revenge.  There's something energized about the final episode of anything, I suppose.  They pay homage to the cast and crew during the end credits of this one, but couldn't they bring back Stephen Goldblatt for the reunion?  Jan de Bont, not so much...

I actually sat through the whole thing (on video) and the only scenes I went back for the second time were the opening scene and the big chase scene on the highway involving a manufactured home.  You gotta admire the pain and suffering that must've gone into the filming of that one.  Otherwise, despite the closure of the characters, especially the Murtaugh family house, this is mostly routine stuff.  I mean, they rip off the train scene from Duel, for crying out loud!

Careers helped: Jet Li

Careers hurt: Stuart Baird

New Character: Chris Rock as Lee Butters

**1/2

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

(c)2004 Bulk Entertainment

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