The Action Mutant…
has nothing against the Jews…especially if any of them want to pay him to write.
review by Joe Burrows
Ah, 1987! The whole year reads an Action movie fan’s whet dream. In one year, fans got Robocop, Extreme Prejudice, Predator, The Running Man, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Dragons Forever, A Better Tomorrow II, Beverly Hills Cop II, Steel Dawn…and even Rage to Kill! And if that wasn’t enough, there was also a little film that proved a plucky, mentally imbalanced Australian and a middle aged, weary African American can be a successful cop/buddy team. And that Gary Busey knows its Christmas time, goddammit! (Note: This is a review of the unrated Director’s Cut, which is 7 minutes longer than the theatrical release)
The Plot, as it was:
Danny Glover plays Roger Murtaugh, a by-the-book police officer that dreams of retirement and spending time on his boat. Of course, someone must have it in for him up above because he gets paired up with a new partner (dun-dun-DUN!). Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a former Vietnam War sniper that’s been headed toward suicide ever since his wife bought it in a car crash. Together, they are on the case of what appears to be the suicide of the daughter of one of Murtaugh’s old war buddies (Tom Atkins). However, it’s L.A. in the 1980s so it ends up being a murder connected to a drug ring headed up by a former General (Mitchell Ryan) and his psycho right hand man Joshua (Gary Busey). Of course, Murtaugh wants to handle things the law abiding way while Riggs doesn’t care whether he dies at any particular moment and always throws caution to the wind. I smell a sitcom!
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Before the formula became overused and old hat, Lethal Weapon was viewed to have as much freshness as the first time Murphy was teamed with Nolte. In the 20+ years since LW was first released, a good bit of it may seem dated but will still be serious fun for those that appreciate the era. The chemistry between Glover and Gibson is readily apparent and stays that way, even after about the fifth time Murtaugh rasps his trademark “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit!” Glover manages to play the role of the straight and narrow Murtaugh without reducing it to a “nerdy, black guy playing uptight white guy” type. Gibson has a rollicking good time playing the burned out Riggs…and to think, we all thought it was an act at one time (furrowed brow). His scenes focusing on his mental state may not be subtle but they set the tone and maintain an odd humanity that actually makes you care for his plight (even though Gibson plays him so broadly, you can’t help but chuckle once or twice). The plot is nothing you never seen before but all of it’s so grand and over the top, it’s easy to forgive. It was actually a little refreshing to see the scenes where the Murtaugh clan embraces Riggs into the normal family dinner, as a lesser script would have just had aped Murphy/Nolte and bickered the whole time through with no end. When that’s not happening, the film moves at a speedy pace and builds to a sharp conclusion (along with adding an appropriately crazy Busey to match up to Gibson’s sardonic wackiness). Lethal Weapon is one of those rare action epics that has a little for everyone, even when it makes spiraling out of control look so effortless.
Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Ed O’Ross (Another 48 Hrs., Red Heat) is the drug dealer Mendez.
- Sven-Ole Thorsen (Thorgrim in Conan the Barbarian) is a mercenary.
- Joan Severance (No Holds Barred, Black Scorpion) is uncredited as “Girl in Black Playsuit”
- Al Leong (The Replacement Killers) is the infamous Endo (“Endo, hit him again!”)
Body Count/Violence: 28. The blood is not all wild and fancy free like many 80’s action romps but it’s still very satisfying for genre fans. Most are done in by the usual firearms, but there’s also fighting, car mayhem, neck snapping and the memorable electro-torture scene. Of course, none of it tops the topless hooker (Jackie Swanson) balcony diving onto the top of a parked car but that’s no reason to check out afterwards.
Sexuality/Nudity: As mentioned above, Swanson is topless in the opening moments and also in a videotape viewing scene later on. The first images the audience gets of Gibson is of his crazy bare ass while getting out of bed.
Language/Dialogue: Pretty strong, as was standard for the era.
How bad was it?:
Critics and fans loved it across the board, with the reviews being almost unanimously positive. Hell, Ebert gave it the full **** star treatment! It’s not an artistic masterwork but its one of those films that makes the cinema landscape a little better just for existing (like Die Hard…another Christmas classic).
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Done for a fairly scant $15 million by Warner Bros., Lethal Weapon hit theaters on 3/6/87 and spent its first three weeks as the #1 top grosser in America. It managed to fall out of the top 10 after nearly a full 3 months amongst the list! With a mainland gross of $65.2 million and a worldwide haul of $55 million (est.), LW brought in total of $120.2 million. Like many action franchises, the first was the lowest grossing of the 4 LW films so far.
Entertainment value: ****/*****
Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.