I can’t specifically recall the first time I saw this
movie, but I remember the first time I heard about it was
from my dad. Every once and a while he used to take me to this
restaurant/pub that had awesome burgers. They were huge, came
with a side of fries that were just as good, and we usually
split an order of quarter cuts (some kind of potato, cheese,
and bacon side if I remember correctly). We would often sit
there discussing all the latest action flicks we saw, as we
are both big fans of the genre. I hadn’t seen or even heard
of Lethal Weapon at that point, but I remember him
telling me about this movie with a young cop and an older
cop. The young one was completely nuts and would do anything
to save the day and catch the bad guys. I specifically remember him gushing over this scene.
I don’t remember when or how I eventually saw it, but I
have seen it several times over the years since. It’s one of
those movies that if you are a boy who was born in the late
70s or early 80s, this is the kind of thing you grew up on.
It’s about good guys busting bad guys, even if they had to
break the rules to do it. Nothing complicated, but the kind
of thing people with a Y chromosome eat up. Of course, this was back before people rooted for the bad guy, which seems to be popular nowadays.
Lethal Weapon wasn’t the first buddy cop flick,
but it sort of defined the genre as we know it. There have
been countless attempts at duplicating the same action/comedy
formula that made it so successful.
It pairs up family man Roger
Murtaugh (Danny Glover) with a young hotshot and borderline
psycho named Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). Murtaugh is a
by-the-book cop and traditional family man. He wants to do
his job, do it well, and come home and enjoy his family at the
end of the day. Riggs is unhinged, highly trained, and
suicidal. Literally. The guy goes back-and-forth on a daily
basis on whether he is going to end it all or not. As a
result of his instability, he’s transferred from the narcotics
division to homicide, and paired with a steady veteran
The two of them are like night and day, but form a bond
over a case they are working on. A young woman named Amanda
Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) has recently fallen to her death
because of an apparent overdose. She was young, but her life
quickly spiraled out of control. She was addicted to drugs
and making porno movies. As they investigate her death, they
start to uncover some stuff. Nasty stuff too. Drugs,
prostitution, and former U.S. military members who are now
high-end drug dealers. They are quickly plunged into
something much larger than they initially anticipated; and
are fighting for their lives as a result. They are up against
people who call themselves things like “The General” or “Mr.
Joshuna”. They aren’t the kind of people you want to know,
let alone have after you.
Like I said earlier pitting together two opposite types of
personality wasn’t a particularly new idea; neither was the
concept of a buddy cop movie. But there’s just something
about the execution of Lethal Weapon that makes it
works so well. It’s funny, intense, dramatic, and kicks ass
all in the same breath. One minute you are laughing, the next
you are saying to yourself that Gibson’s character is
completely insane. Then you find yourself pitying Glover’s
character for having to put up with Gibson’s, but also
sympathizing with Gibson’s character because of his traumatic
past. Throw in some awesome action and you’ve got yourself a
classic action flick; the kind they just don’t make anymore.
The acting really helps sell the movie too. Glover and
Gibson had great chemistry with both each other and the bad
guys the faced off against (Gary Busey and Mitchell Ryan). And speaking of Busy and Mitchell Ryan,
these guys were terrifying. They were twisted SOBs who cared
about nothing more than making money and would eliminate
anyone who got in the way of that. They were cold and
calculating right down to the bone.
I always found the
background characters in this movie very good too. The guy
who plays Riggs and Murtaugh’s boss (Steve Kahan), the
members of Murtaugh’s family, and the police psychologist
(RIP Mary Ellen Trainor) all seemed very believable to me. No
matter how over-the-top and unlike real police Riggs and
Murtaugh’s adventures might be, I always felt like I was
watching real people who cared abotu one another.
This is one of the all-time classic action movies. Now, the She thought the final fight was ridiculous, but stuff like that is what makes this movie a classic. It's so larger-than-life and what we like to think police life is like, even though we know it isn't.
Rating: Thumbs up.
This movie review
was written for your reading pleasure on May 19, 2013.
It was updated on June 15, 2015.
What She said
Ah, 1987. Those were the years. Cars were square, mullets were popular, people smoked cigarettes in restaurants, and cocaine was all the rage. I was, of course, still too young to properly recognize the significance of these things, and my youth also contributed to the fact that I somehow missed out on watching Lethal Weapon all these years. Actually, I’ve never seen any of the films in this franchise. But an unassuming Friday night, marked by illness and a lack of Fios (meaning no cable, internet, or phone), meant that The He and I had to dig deep into our closet of DVDs to find something interesting to watch. I suggested this film, acknowledging that it was about time that I indulged in this buddy-cop action frenzy.
The movie introduces us to LAPD homicide sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). He’s had a highly successful career and is celebrating his 50th birthday with his family. Out of the blue, he receives a call from an old Vietnam buddy-turned rich banker, Michael Hunsaker, who he hasn’t spoken to in years. In the meantime, he gets a call to investigate the suicide of a young lady who jumped from a building. It turns out to be Hunsaker’s troubled daughter, Amanda. Coincidence? I think not.
Adding to the complexity of things is the fact that Murtaugh has just been assigned a new partner, the borderline insane ex-U.S. Army Special Forces soldier Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). It does not take Murtaugh long to figure out that Riggs is more of a liability than he is an asset. Sure, the guy has skills, but he also seems suicidal. Credit to Riggs, he mostly keeps it together and seems to be dealing with some serious stuff, including the death of his wife.
The partners continue work on the Hunsaker cause, and are intrigued upon finding that blood test results show that she had taken drugs laced with poison. Her jump was probably influenced by the drugs, and, beyond that, even if she had not jumped, she would have been dead in minutes anyway. There also appears to be evidence that someone else may have been with Hunsaker when she died, and a murder-for-hire plot is suspected. This is all but confirmed when the house of the prostitute they were planning to interview is blown up as they were walking toward it. The explosive switch used to ignite the bomb is unique to those used by the Special Forces, and Riggs and Murtaugh believe that this is a much bigger operation than was originally surmised.
Some further investigation uncovers a huge heroin smuggling ring that has ties to the former special ops forces from the Vietnam War. Knowing this is, of course, extremely dangerous, and so the baddies immediately start targeting Murtaugh and his innocent family, including his teenaged daughter. Murtaugh and Riggs find themselves in a tense situation where they must work outside the traditional boundaries of the LAPD to bring down the bad guys and save Murtaugh’s family.
Ok, so that was a very lengthy plot synopsis. Believe it or not, I actually left a few things out. The storyline of Lethal Weapon is relatively complex, but it doesn’t feel that way as you watch things play out on screen. I found myself in a few “huh?” moments, not entirely grasping what I was seeing, but overall everything makes sense.
There is a palpable chemistry between Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, which is probably what enabled this film to work. Glover has that old, tense veteran cop thing down. He basically spent the entire movie sweating. Just absolutely drenched the whole time. And Gibson is your stud young buck, specializing in hand-to-hand combat and making use of the finest martial arts techniques. He hardly even has to ruffle his mullet as he effortlessly brings down bad guys.
This film walks the line between gritty action and over-the-top charades. There are some rather serious torture scenes, but there’s also one absolutely ridiculous and drawn-out scene where Riggs gets in a knock-down fist fight with fellow Special Forces veteran Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). The absurdity was not the fact that this fight happened—it was the fact that about 150 police officers stood by and watched the two of them beat the snot out of each other without stepping in to assist. It was sort of a “this has to happen because we’re men” kind of thing. It was one of the stupidest, yet mildly entertaining cinematic moments I’ve seen. Completely unnecessary to the film and in there only to satiate someone’s appetite.
The movie is pure 80s fluff, and is filmed as such. There are moments where the cinematography is iffy, at best, having the same vibe as some of my high school TV class productions. That said, the fight scenes weren’t too bad and it was nice to see some things actually get blown up, as opposed to the bad CGI effects that we more often see nowadays. Back in the 80s, if you want a car to blow up, you’ve got to go blow up a car. It was a simpler time…
This movie was fun—although I cannot say I “loved” it. It wasn’t bad. I think that the highly implausible fight scene at the end (described earlier) may have ruined things a little for me. Up until that point, I wasn’t having a bad time.