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Lethal Weapon (1987)

by on 2010/12/10

The first time I saw Lethal Weapon, I was officially too young for it.  Somehow I got into the theatre without being seen or stopped.

Nearly two hours later I emerged, not entirely sure I’d enjoyed myself.  The novelty in seeing something forbidden was offset by the trauma.

Twenty-something years along, and very little seems to have changed.

At the outset of the movie, Los Angeles Police Detective Roger Murtaugh (Be Kind Rewind’s Danny Glover) turns fifty and, as he reminds us time and again, he’s “getting too old for this” . . . er, Stuff Happening In Town.  To his frustration, he is partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson of the Mad Max films), a gifted deadeye and cannon so loose, his peers consider him a “lethal weapon”.

Plot details scarcely matter in the face of their budding (or buddying) relationship but, for the record, here they are:  former Special Forces compatriots of theirs are trafficking heroin in L.A. with the help of contacts made during the Vietnam War.

Oh, and also:  they must be stopped.

While it’s become increasingly difficult to see the leads, especially Gibson, with much objectivity, they’re effective, if melodramatic.  Aside from the mullet, Three Stooges mannerisms, and considerable personal baggage, Riggs is as convincing as he is entertaining.  On the other hand, Glover plays Murtaugh a bit high strung for my taste.  Even “at rest” he seems forever on the edge of a seizure.  And all their combined acting efforts are unable to convince me they’re anything but good friends.  The story wants to be like Seven but their chemistry belongs in an Ocean’s movie.

Speaking of which, though Lethal Weapon predates Seven by nearly a decade, many aspects seem to anticipate it:  the involvement of an officer’s family, a long drive into the desert, and some truly disturbing torture scenes.  While I maintain a long-admitted disdain for the “cop’s family in jeopardy” cliche, I suppose it is defensible as a real risk faced by the law.  Still, the build-up through the middle is so comfortable, light, and stagey that the end feels less like a satisfying shock than an out-of-place exploitation.

And I need to note my frustration with the late Michael Kamen’s music.  How many excellent movies could have been better with another score?  Die Hard, Highlander, Licence to Kill, and X-Men, just to start.  Perhaps I’d better spread the blame, loath as I feel speaking ill of the dead.  So Eric Clapton, David Sanborn, and whoever played the bass (possibly Laurence Cottle), I’m putting you all on notice.  Keep your jazz fusion fingers off our beloved genre properties!

Well, I wanted an unconventional Christmas experience, and that’s exactly what I got here.  Lethal Weapon is fun and frustrating, in just about equal amounts.  It entertains enough to warrant a look, but my first impression hasn’t changed too much in the intervening years.  In fact I’d be surprised if I saw it again before another generation has passed.

* * *

Rated R/18A for adult situations, disturbing scenes, language, nudity, substance abuse, and violence

117 minutes (2000 Director’s Cut)

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