The next stop in my meandering, years-long journey through the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection is Lethal Weapon, a film that walks a thin line between wildly entertaining (if absurd) action movie and borderline-self-parody buddy-cop trope-fest. Man, that was a lot of hyphens.
Hindsight blurs that line, as retrospective eyes make elements that were still fresh in 1987 seem like hopeless clichés. As with any historical work or figure, I judge it in the context of the times in which it existed. As such, Lethal Weapon holds up better than one might reasonably expect.
Mel Gibson’s suicidal, manic, disheveled, chain-smoking-and-junk-food-eating Riggs has undeniable comic chemistry with Danny Glover’s by-the-book, old-school Murtaugh. We’re in Gibson’s “still clearly Australian” period, here. This is also one of those movie scenarios where Gibson is playing younger than his actual age, and Glover is playing “too-old-for-this-shit” (in reality, they’re only 10 years apart). See also Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Weirdly, Riggs and Murtaugh are both Vietnam vets, however. As is the case in the entirety of the series, the audience is beaten over the head with the plot through-lines. And, yes, there are some over-the-top scenes, with one of the more egregious seeing Gary Busey’s “Mr. Joshua” inexplicably able to sneak up silently on a seaside funeral in a helicopter to carry out an assassination.
But the most insane of these reality-breaking scenes might be the second-to-last scene of the entire movie, which has Murtaugh allowing Joshua and Riggs to engage in hand-to-hand combat on his lawn in a steady downpour as two dozen cops stand around and watch. This scene kicks off when Joshua is somehow able to kill two police officers who were assigned to watch Murtaugh’s house in case someone from Joshua’s outfit showed up(!).
After Riggs eventually bests Joshua, and two other cops go to handcuff the villain, Joshua somehow manages to get one of the cops’ guns, despite having been unconscious seconds earlier. Naturally, this is a contrivance to allow Riggs and Murtaugh to be able to shoot and kill Joshua cleanly—and simultaneously! It was the 80s, after all, and audiences expected heroes to KILL, KILL, KILL!!!
Lethal Weapon is an entertaining ride that includes so many oft-spoofed buddy-cop tropes that it may seem almost satirical to modern eyes. Rest assured that Gibson and Glover are genuinely good together, and even the worst efforts in this franchise remain watchable because of how well they mesh.
Post-script: In reviewing Lethal Weapon, I also took the opportunity to re-watch the entire series, as I had purchased it separately on blu-ray in the time since I originally saw them years ago. Now having seen them all again, I would rank them like thusly: 2, 1, 3, 4. But even the worst of them is reasonably entertaining.
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