Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Written by Kirk Baird
Lethal Weapon was released in 1987, and its genre template has been emulated so many times – including by three more Lethal Weapon movies – that novel quickly turned cliché:
A cop on the edge; his veteran cop buddy, who wants to play it safe until retirement; their snarling police captain, frequently given to outbursts over their unorthodox methods; and lots of explosions, car chases, and violence.
The original Lethal Weapon may not have invented these fixtures of the R-rated buddy-cop action-drama, but it successfully blended them in such a way that the result felt original and even organic..
A quarter-century after its release, Warner Bros. thought it an appropriate time to celebrate the Lethal Weapon franchise with a five-disc Blu-ray set, including all four movies and lots of extras that was just released.
The key to the first Lethal Weapon’s success is a fresh script by a new UCLA graduate named Shane Black, who wanted to explore a Western gunslinger mythos as a cop drama in Los Angeles, and textbook action-film direction by Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, The Goonies).
But their efforts – considerable as they are -- would have been in vain without the film’s two leads. For all the off-the-set publicity Mel Gibson has received the last few years from his erratic behavior, Lethal Weapon is a welcomed reminder that, once upon a time, he was a triple threat in Hollywood: handsome, smart, and talented. Danny Glover, who was a decade younger than his 50-year-old “I’m too old for this … ” cop , was the steady presence in the film we identified with.
Their buddy-buddy relationship wasn’t necessarily acting, either. Gibson and Glover apparently developed a near-instant rapport before shooting – enough to convince studio execs to quickly greenlight the film.
The pair still appears friendly in a series of interviews together, along with Donner, who directed all four movies, filmed in March, 2010. The trio could probably make a fifth Lethal Weapon, though it looks like the long-discussed project – if it happens at all – will feature a new cast.
Lethal Weapon was a big hit, and for its 1989 sequel, Donner took the more is better approach, with a bigger budget, more explosions and violence, and a scene-stealing new character named Leo Getz – a drug cartel accountant-turned government witness – to change the buddy dynamic of Riggs(Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover). Joe Pesci plays Leo, in a comically inspired performance that delivered perhaps the most memorable(and true to life) scene in the franchise: the fast-food rant.
If audiences loved the additions to the second film -- – or so Donner and company reasoned -- they’ll LOVE Getz again in the third film, along with the addition of Rene Russo as tough cop Lorna Cole and a love interest of Riggs who doesn’t die. The fourth film added Chris Rock as another cop, and martial arts maestro Jet Li as a deadly assassin working for a Chinese crime lord. And yes, Pesci was back as well.
As the films turned sillier, Riggs became less of a “lethal weapon” – a suicidal cop who was broken by the death of his wife and haunted by memories of secret forces activities in Vietnam – and the original film’s edge was dulled to a plastic knife. At least Riggs’ friendship with Murtaugh wisely remained the center point of the Lethal Weapon movies.
The Lethal Weapon franchise is a case of diminishing return, but the first film and even its first sequel are good enough to carry this set on their own.
The Lethal Weapon Collection Blu-ray set features all four movies, and a fifth disc featuring new retrospective feaurettes. The interviews are good for a shot of nostalgia, but Donner’s commentary through the four films is worth the time; of particular interest is the director’s reminder that his movies were made in the pre-CGI revolution, and many of the stunts employ some old school Hollywood techniques that, frankly, hold up better than most of the CG action sequences today.
Which Lethal Weapon is your favorite?