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USA 1987
Directed by
Richard Donner
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Lethal Weapon

That Richard Donner’s film initiated one of the most commercially successful movie franchises of all time says more about the low level of mass audience IQ than anything else. That it also received a generally highly favourable critical reception is unfathomable.  

Pairing veteran black family man cop, Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), with young, white  loose cannon, Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), who has recently lost his wife in a car accident, Lethal Weapon follows the time-honoured journey of the odd couple who arrive at begrudging respect and comradely friendship while imbuing the very familiar template with a high-level of gun-play and action set-pieces.

The story is a lame mash-up that involves the wily pair bringing down a nefarious drug smuggling operation run by ex-Vietnam/CIA black ops General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) and his psycho right-hand man Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey), that latter who also manages to throw into the mix some home invasion activity, apparently just because that’s what he like to do.

If the plot is routine it is further undermined by lack of credibility. Early on Riggs saves a would-be suicide by jumping off a building with him. Not only is there a huge inflatable mattress for them to fall on, when they pick themselves up the handcuffs are gone. Later in the big action finale Riggs is able to outrun Busey’s car but for all his near superhuman prowess is unable to nail him (leaving room for the above-mentioned home invasion material).  

In the acting stakes the mulleted Gibson is often awful, either madly staring down adversaries or bawling over his wife’s picture but he is as handsomely energetic as Busey is creepily vicious. Glover is amiable as the older cop who is, as we are told repeatedly “too old for this shit” and who just wants to go fishing, loves his kids, yadda yadda. The dynamic between the two was regarded as one of the film’s biggest assets but it is so predictable and Gibson’s “suicidal” tendencies so easily evaporate in the face of his partner’s homeliness that it’s like spoon-fed formula eased down by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton’s typically 80s smooth jazz-blues score.

It is, however,  the action that really appealed to the hoi polloi. Rivalling the other major 80’s cop action movie Die Hard, released the following year, with the exception of Mel’s ridiculous sprinting, the action is well-staged culminating in a lengthy set-piece that involves lots of shooting, explosions, car-crashes and  hand-to-hand combat with the outcome that, yawn, the bad guys get their asses kicked.

End of story, Well, not really as there were 3 sequels. As we all know, the ‘80s have a lot to answer for.




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