1987 - R - 110 Mins.
|Director: Richard Donner|
|Producer: Joel Silver, Richard Donner|
|Written By: Shane Black|
|Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins, Mitchell Ryan |
|Review by: John Ulmer
There's such a flow and deep character progression that helps make "Lethal Weapon" what it is today -- a funny, action-packed, and yet also quite intelligent cop-buddy film that owes its success in part to the smartness of its script, the solid direction by Richard Donner, and the interaction of its two lead stars, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, who bounce jokes and one-liners off each other with such comic timing and gruffness it makes one wonder why the strict comedies released nowadays can't be half as funny as this mixed-genre buddy film.
"Lethal Weapon" is a very tough film, brutal and vicious. Roger Ebert described it perfectly when he said, "A movie where you and your date grab each other's arm every four minutes and you walk out black and blue and grinning from ear to ear."
That's exactly how I feel when I'm done watching it. The later sequels were extremely good given that the formula of these type of films usually get old very quick - in fact, as sequels go they surprisingly never really grew old in formula at all. But they did seem to gradually lose the toughness and brutality of the first film, at least after the second, something that helps elevate it to a type of hard action movie status. Those looking for a soft buddy comedy have rented the wrong movie.
The strength of the film lies within the hands of its two lead stars; it is firmly rooted and all else flows with ease and an almost simple splendor. Mel Gibson plays a Mad Max gone homicidal. Danny Glover plays a retiring cop stuck with a lethal weapon of a partner for his last few days as an officer of the law. They'll be lucky to make it through the next week without killing each other first.
It opens high up in the night sky to the song "Jingle Bell Rock" and comes to focus in a naked woman's apartment. She's drugged up and walks to an open ledge overlooking the landscape above and below. She jumps.
The next day. Sgt. Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is having his fiftieth birthday. He's retiring from the police force. As he so aptly puts it, "I'm too old for this [feces]."
Murtagh's bad day gets even worse when he's assigned a new partner named Martin Riggs (Gibson). Riggs is suicidal, the police force has their suspicions of this, and so they team him up with Murtaugh as a way of (a) seeing if he's just playing crazy to get a pension and (b) to get him out of their way. Murtaugh thinks he's playing crazy to make some extra cash - until he watches Riggs put a gun in his mouth and almost pull the trigger. "You really are crazy."
Then the two men stumble upon a drug smuggling operation that goes back to the days of the Vietnam War. Things get personal when Murtaugh's family is in danger. Murtaugh's daughter is kidnapped and the two men have to find a way to get her back alive.
Most films like these are just shouting matches between the two cops. They typically have a paper-thin plot with lots of shoot-'em-up action. "Lethal Weapon" is smarter than this -- it has shouting, it has plenty of shoot-'em-ups, but it also has a good plot -- enough plot for at least ten of these buddy films,
The actors are terrific in their roles. Danny Glover's family man is absolutely convincing. I especially like throughout the four films when someone will make a remark about how old he is -- like his daughter mentioning his beard making him look older in the first film -- and he just stares in a mirror and looks at himself with that, "I'm getting older. I can't believe it" look.
Mel Gibson is perfect as Riggs, a suicidal maniac who doesn't care if he goes down until he finds something to live for. The audience finds out early on that his wife has been killed, and her death has pushed him over the edge to the point where he has to think of a good reason not to blow his head off each day. There's a very tense scene when he's putting a gun to his head, then in his mouth, and he starts crying and trying to think of a reason to live. Later he tells us what the reason is: "The job," he says. Most cops in films have families like Danny Glover's character. Riggs truly has nothing but his job, and if he dies carrying it out he couldn't care less.
It's startling how effective a film this is. It's bruising, dynamite, action-packed storytelling, but it never forgets its plot, its characters and their progression, nor the dramatic side of the movie. Anyone not touched by Riggs' pre-suicide scene probably should seek help.
Here is one of the best films of all time.