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By Brad Laidman | September 19, 2001

“Dammit, it’s Riggs.”
Was it really necessary to make four of these? I mean how original was the first one to begin with? People would have you believe that Shane Black was a genius for switching around the race roles of 48 Hrs. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson have some nice chemistry together, but who would have thought the travails of two LAPD officers who trample all over people’s rights would prove to be such a popular fantasy. Admittedly, it pretty cool to see Martin Riggs burst through the door the second the bad guy says “There’s no more heroes left in the world” despite having just recieved brutal electric shock torture that will leave you cringing with shooting discomfort. Did these guys ever bring in a bad guy alive?
Danny Glover plays Roger Murtaugh, a no nonsense cop, who despite seeming pretty close to retirement managed to hang around for three more films. Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs his new suicidal partner and expert killing machine. Because the genre demands it, they don’t get along for the first hour of the first movie, but pretty soon Danny is repeatedly moaning how he is too old for this s**t and Mel becomes practically one of the family. Usually guys are either great with the guns or their fists, Mel is part Bruce Lee, part Sundance Kid. The closest Mel really gets to getting hurt is when he over dramatically sticks a gun into his mouth and starts hyperventilating like a dog with indecision whether to do himself in. The suicidal cop thing plays entertainingly for about an hour. The next seven are all about chemistry.
Danny is there so members of his family can get boosted, his house can be blown up or burned down, and to whine like a little baby when Mel does the driving. What do you suppose the Murtaugh family insurance premiums are like?
The second movie did a pretty good job of convincing us that South Africans were the Nazi’s of the ’90s, but I would have done anything to get with Patsy Kensit like Mel does. She becomes the perfect fantasy woman when she hooks up with Mel all night in his beat up disheveled camper, and then gets blown away by more bullets than they fired at Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke in The Gauntlet. Somehow though both Mel and his dog manage to survive. Inspired but no longer suicidal, he hooks his truck up to a house on stilts and causes untold havok.
The third movie tries to actually acknowledge Los Angeles’ gangster problems for about thirty seconds, but the true heart of the film has something more to do with The Three Stooges and how cool it would be to meet a female version of yourself (Rene Russo) to compare scars and lacerations with before having sex. Hot women aside, it’s no reason to bring the neurotic Joe Pesci in the fold for the better part of three movies. Joe Pesci as a violent, psychotic, bad guy works for me, but you can keep him when he’s playing neurotic, loser mob accountant Leo Getz.
Roger Ebert would have you believe that the Kung Fu battle royal between Mel and Gary Busey was some sort of modern æsthetic ballet in the rain, but it always seemed like just a sloppy unnecessary mess to me. How much does Busey really have to fight for with 40 armed cops shining their flashlights in his face? The real Karate deal shows up in the presence of Jet Li somewhere in the fourth movie, but who really bought his defeat at the hands of our heroes. Mel’s chops look downright slow and effeminate in comparison to the real thing.
Things that do amuse me time and time again from the first film are those hilarious ghetto kids, who know Danny and Mel are cops the second they get out of their car. The kids mock our heroes for arresting the local hooker and when suddenly said hooker’s house explodes, they joyfully cheer that they want to see it again. With these kids and the boy in Falling Down who taught Michæl Douglas how to fire a rocket launcher how could anyone ever be worried about the next generation?
Does this series ever have to really end? How about Lethal Weapon 5: Back to Saigon, Lethal Weapon 6: More Buildings Get Blown Up While Our Heroes Laugh, Lethal Weapon 7: Who Stole the Donuts?, or Lethal Weapon 8: Mel and Danny Kick A*s At the Senior Center? Personally if my partner treated my impending death as occasions for elaborate practical jokes time and again I would be out of there before the dust from my seventh exploded house settled. Nevertheless, points are merited to the series for employing former Phil Spector singing angel Darlene Love time and again as Roger’s poor neglected wife. How much affection can you truly show your wife when you are really in love with you wacked out crazy partner?

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