Forgotten Gems: Once We Were Kings…The Lethal Weapon Series

LethalWeaponBR

Lethal Weapon Collection – 1987, 1989, 1992, 1998

Director Richard Donner

Starring

Martin Riggs Mel Gibson
Roger Murtaugh Danny Glover
Leo Getz Joe Pesci (2-4)
Lorna Cole Rene Russo (3-4)
Lee Butters Chris Rock (4)
Trish Murtaugh Darlene Love
Rianne Murtaugh Traci Wolfe
Nick Murtaugh Damon Hines
Carrie Murtaugh Ebonie Smith
Captain Ed Murphy Steve Kahan
Dr. Stephanie Woods Mary Ellen Trainor

Screenplay 

Shane Black(1,2), Robert Mark Kamen(3) Jonathan Lemkin (4)
Jeffrey Boam (2,3), Alfred Gough & Miles Millar (4)
Warren Murphy (2), Channing Gibson (4)

After O.J. Simpson was convicted found responsible for 2 murders, I have never been able to stomach watching the wonderful trio of Naked Gun comedies.  After doing considerably less harm to the world (more to himself than anyone) Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon films have kind of faded into the background too.  This is a shame and somewhat a loss for people who love movies.

Many have forgotten the first Lethal Weapon movie, not just Die Hard, that forever changed the action film genre.  There had been great films action films before, even buddy cop films, if you ever considered Hackman and Scheider buddies.  The difference in the case of Lethal Weapon is that it took a race role reversal to the cop partnership.

In this story, Danny Glover is the old, wise pro, who is on the verge of age 50.  It’s his character that is the traditional “wife with kids” guy.  This aspect is put into full effect, too, through the development of the series.  The younger, deliberately reckless partner is Gibson.  He’s almost equally experienced as Gibson, given that both served in Vietnam.  His edge is due to the wife that he lost prior to the events of the film.  Through their shared experiences, they find the bad guys and a true, believable friendship in one another.

The formula worked well for the first film, but the best thing about Lethal Weapon is that it never was just the same movie, time after time.  New elements were added, new angles explored, and no one was safe, even if ultimately the main cast survived each film.  New characters, played by Pesci, Russo and Black, added something to the story beyond the gimmick factor.  Much of this was due to writing, and much more, good acting.  The bad guys were never as intriguing as they could have been and the action could sometimes be absurd.  The directing style, music and structure of the films remained smartly stylish and cool.

What follows is kind of love letter to a movie series that made me a fan of movies.  Everyone should own this series, even the weaker later films.  This is a great director at his peak and two movie stars who never would shine brighter.

Lethal Weapon
Lethal_Weapon_Murtaugh_Family
Year 1987
Story
One of Roger’s old army buddies (Tom Atkins) gets caught up in a heroin dealing front and his daughter is killed.  Roger has a new partner, Martin Riggs seems like a burden until they get on the trail of the dealers.
Main Bad Guy Mitchell Ryan was good, but really the most conventional type of 70’s/ 80’s bad guy.  He adds nothing but stern talking kind of Ward Cleaver effect.
Main Henchman Gary Busey on the verge of his crazy downward spiral.  He’s good at everything, but there is no way he would have lasted 2 seconds in hand to hand combat.
Best Sequence
The escape from torture with by electrocution by Endo, played by the inimitable Al Leong.  The fact that this comes after a botched attempt to rescue Riggs daughter heightens the tension and the feeling of relief.
Worst Sequence
The fight on the lawn.  Its got too much water and Gary Busey.  They took the tine to clear the house but seemingly left the two cops out front clueless that Mr. Joshua was coming over to kill.  Then they drive those cops’ own car into Murtaugh’s house?  No way.
Best Line
Murtaugh: You ever met anybody you didn’t kill?  Riggs: Well I haven’t killed you yet.
2nd Best Line
Riggs: I ran into some of those Shadow Company pussies in Saigon in ’69.
Worst Line
There’s no more heroes left in the world.
Memorable Song
Jingle Bell Rock
Review/ Rating  
Many iconic moments and Shane Black’s incredible screenwriting  offer a contrast to the gritty realism and sadness that permeates the atmosphere.  The dialogue is funny, but brutally real as it needs to be.  Every time one views Riggs put the gun in his mouth, contrasting with Murtaugh daring him out a short time later, it seems like he really might pull the trigger this time.  Seeing Riggs interact with Murtaughs family and coming over for dinner, bad roast and all, there is a warmth and kindness that could be done in throwaway style.  To everyone’s credit, it all feels real.

The action scenes in the first film pale a little after Gibson breaks everyone free, but I am not sure if that is due to the sheer number of old-timey stock bad guys that just over do it.  Being cast opposite the intense Gibson and Glover just may do this.  If the bad guy had been someone besides Mitchell Ryan, the film could have benefit, but who knows if the producers knew what they had here.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 2
Year 1989FF-Lethal-Weapon-Toilet
Story
Apartheid is bad is kind of what I have always gotten out of this script, although, tying general dealing of contraband to “diplomatic immunity” serves as reason enough to do away with the gaggle of South Africans in the story.  Murtaugh and Riggs are set to work protection duty on a money launderer (Pesci) who gives them way more than they thought they were getting.  Riggs gets involved with an administrative assistant and discovers these guys have intersected with him before.  
Main Bad Guy Joss Ackland as Arjen Rudd has as much menace as Palpatine, even if he does not appear to have the strength to walk the length of a shipping boat.
Main Henchman Derrick O’Connor as Pieter Vorstedt is creepily effective.  If he doesn’t look the part, he redefines what the part should look like.  He doesn’t talk much, but he is effective and lupine.
Best Sequence
The movie is filled with them, but all things being equal, the film’s opening chase is frenetic, funny and it sets the pace for the rest of the story.
2nd Best Sequence The toilet.  Enough said.
Worst Sequence
Dropping off Ms. Hagen-Daas at her apartment alone after the big firefight on the beach?  Really?  Tied with leaving Leo Getz alone in the car outside your house which has been attacked twice already?  Really?  Really?
Best Line 
Arjen Rudd: Diplomatic immunity!
Roger Murtaugh [shoots Arjen in the head]: It’s just been revoked!
2nd Best Line
Riggs: We’re back, we’re bad, you’re black, I’m mad.
Worst Line
Pick any line that the shrink says or is spoken to her.
Memorable Song
Cheer Down by George Harrison.  One of his greatest songs and totally appropriate given what they went through.
Review/ Rating
Head and shoulders above the rest of them and one of the few sequels that exceeds the original.  More camaraderie, more slick rough language, more brutality.  And Leo Getz (Pesci).  Anyone else that would have played him would not amount to half of the character Pesci injects.  He takes a beating from literally every character and he still comes out on top.  He helps to make the film as funny as it is brutal.  The movie has no lulls and works the ending into a frenzy where both leads are crucial.  This film must be seen.

(***** out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 3
LethalWeapon3_scene_02
Year 1992
Story
Riggs and Murtaugh are busted down to beat cops for about one scene.  This is long enough for them to stumble into an internal affairs issue.  Fortunately this involves Lorna Cole, who immediately strikes up an adversarial relationship with Riggs.  Murtaugh gets caught up in the troubles of his son’s friends, who happened to be packing heat lifted from the police.  All roads lead to one source.
Main Bad Guy AWOL Cop Stuart Wilson as Jack Travis is brutal and ruthless.  There is still something missing.  It could be that is all he is.
Main Henchman Not really any.  Maybe that Dan Fogelberg looking guy with the glasses, beard and mustache.
Best Sequence
Seeing Lorna Cole kick ass is invigorating.  Pick any one of her fights and I am in.
2nd Best Sequence
The shaving scene with Murtaugh and his son is one of the most beautiful moments in the series.
Worst Sequence
The bomb in the car, complete with a cat jumping on the car from absolutely nowhere.  There is absolutely no reason for them to do it other than to have an opening scene with lots of chaos and destruction.
2nd Worst Sequence
So many bad ones, but I will go with the Dog Biscuits.
Best Line
Riggs: Where’d you learn to fight like that?  Cole: Catholic School.
Worst Line
Any time Dr. Woods is involved, groans ensue.
2nd Worst Line
Riggs [spitting out gas]: Exxon.  Cheap political throwaway line that no one hears, except the audience.
Memorable Song
Sting and Clapton: It’s Probably Me, and BoyzIIMen: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.
Review/ Rating A thoroughly average film that is leveraged by the performance of Russo as Lorna Cole.  She lights up the screen and gives Riggs the perfect foil.  The best moments in the movie are those with her in them.  Pesci gives a little of the light that he provided in the last film, but it doesn’t help that his part was written in late in development.  The action is ridiculous, existing only to give sound and fury.  Very few lines are that funny or have much in the way of resonance.  The argument with Riggs and a drunk Murtaugh is the only thing that rises to their earlier level.  There is some other good stuff here, and it’s so good to see the family expand to include Leo and Lorna.

(*** out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 4
Year 1998
Story
Immigrant slavery.  Riggs, Leo and Murtaugh stumble across an immigrant slavery ring and Roger decides to step in a little too deep, finding something he identifies with historically.  Riggs and Cole are expecting a child, but have not pondered marriage.  Murtaugh’s oldest Reeann has married a cop and is expecting, but neither can tell Roger.   All of this ties back to making counterfeit money and shipping it back to China.
Main Bad Guy Uncle Benny (Kim Chan) he’s a staple in the movie biz as either the wise old friend of the good guy or the head bad guy.  He gives a stereotypical performance, old “Horrywoo” style, to make up for the borders that they are crossing with the other Chinese characters in the movie.  If you laugh, you are racist.
Main Henchman Wa Sing Ku played by Jet Li is one of the most devastating bad guys in the series.  He is seriously too much for any of them to take on.  They paid the actor as much respect as one could while still keeping the belt with the champs at the top of the bill.
Best Sequence
The fight inside the house after the family is taken.  Lorna can still kick ass, even when in late stage pregnancy.  Jet Li waits like a cat and strikes, disarming everyone.  He even knocks Lorna out without harming the child.


Worst Sequence
So many bad scenes, too many to mention more than the car chase where Roger jumps a car literally into a multi-story building and then drives through the building and…jumps back onto the freeway.  It feels like they just stopped trying.
Best Line
Leo: What is that smell?  Old Lady: I was on my way to the toilet when she (Lorna) grabbed me.
Worst Line
Anything between Riggs and Uncle Benny.
2nd Worst Line

Memorable Song
None.  But they had plenty of that delicious Sanborn saxophone and Clapton guitar.
Review/ Rating
For a series that concentrated on being real in language and action, they really fall of the rails here.  For some damn reason, no one can tell Roger that his near 30-year-old daughter is married to Butters (Rock).  Then no one can tell Riggs that Murtaugh’s wife is a famous smut author.  Riggs and Lorna are pregnant, but have yet to consider marriage.  Even when they bring it up, they act like they don’t know how to talk about it.  Stupid plot contrivances.  Then we have the mish mash with the Chinese.  Are they the butt of jokes, or worthy of our sympathy?  The action is as insipid as it was in the last film, with the nod to Riggs admitting to getting older, just like Murtaugh.

Still by this point, the cast is so comfortable in their roles, it is hard not to root for them and just sit back and enjoy the whole mess.  They had the same characters for each part through all four films, even the kids!  The show moved from noir to a rated R family comedy.  It’s a mess, just like Leo’s character, but you miss them if they are not there.  For this reason, its hard not to like this one better than the one that precedes it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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