Warner Bros. // 1998 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // January 26th, 2000
The gang's all here.
Check your brain at the door and get a jolt from this action packed film that has a few laughs to boot. A fine disc as well, one of the best I've ever seen from Warner.
Richard Donner (Superman, Ladyhawke, Lethal Weapon 3) has made working with Mel Gibson a franchise. This is the 4th installment of the Lethal Weapon series, and heavily depends on the character development of the first three films. Fortunately few of us will see this without having become fans of, or at least familiar with the first three, and the actors slip into their characters like you do a pair of well broken-in shoes. From the first action scene where our heroes take on a flamethrower and machine gun toting foe wearing full armor with just pistols, you know the boys are back and so are you.
What is different from the other films? Well, not a lot. Riggs (Mel Gibson, Braveheart, Lethal Weapon, Payback) has probably grown the most; having developed a relationship with Lorna Cole (Renee Russo, Thomas Crown Affair, Lethal Weapon 3) and is trying to deal with the fact they are going to have a baby. There is even a little depth here as Riggs tries to finally get past his first wife's death and move on. All the characters are getting older, and they're facing not being able to do everything they could a few years (and films) ago. Murtaugh's (Danny Glover, Grand Canyon, Lethal Weapon 3) kids are growing up, and his oldest daughter is pregnant and tight-lipped as to the father's identity. She isn't talking because the father is cop Lee Butters, played by comedian Chris Rock. Murtaugh had always said he'd kill him if she married a cop. Butters obsequiously follows around after Murtaugh trying to make friends, but he thinks the younger cop is gay and coming on to him, which is good for several laughs. The basic plot involves the Chinese trade in illegal aliens, where the imported people are turned into virtual slaves once they reach the US, and the involvement of the Triads, or Chinese Mafia. Martial artist Jet Li (Black Mask, numerous other Hong Kong films) plays the heavy, and is perhaps the first adversary that you can believe is more than a match for our heroes. This guy is FAST.
This installment definitely has its tongue deep inside its cheek. It isn't afraid to make fun of itself, and is as much comedy as action. But action it has a-plenty, and at least one of the scenes during a highway chase is as stupendous as anything they've done before.
Critics did not receive this movie with any sort of appreciation, and certainly they have a point or two. But I'm not one of them. The money was there to provide everything they needed to make the picture, and you have experienced filmmakers and actors throughout. I think it really falls into the situation where if you liked the other films, you will like this one. If you were tired of the series by the second or third one you probably won't. Is this film important, or even as good as the first Lethal? Not really. But it's pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing it again.
Let's move on to the disc. In a word it is superb. The picture quality is nearly perfect. Scenes are detailed; without a hint of grain or film defect. Shadows and blacks are fantastic; even night scenes are clearly seen. One place shows a bit of shimmer and another place has a slight color bleed; but if you weren't looking intently for it you'd never notice. The 5.1 audio track reaches right out and grabs you, and you need to hold on for the ride if you have the home theater speakers for it. It aggressively spreads from the wide and deep front soundstage right around to the rears, and one explosion will give your surround speakers its ultimate test. The subwoofer, as you might expect is used extensively, but is intense without overriding. The dialogue is clear and intelligible, though perhaps a bit muted early in the film, but not much.
For reasons I haven't been able to determine, this is a dual sided single layer disc. The movie and commentary by director Richard Donner and assistants are on one side, and the rest of the special features on the other. It's a bit of a hassle but the other side is worth watching. It contains a feature called "Pure Lethal" hosted by Danny Glover, with a lot of great footage and comments from the stars. It also highlights the great camaraderie of cast and crew. There are also quite a few scenes of B footage, or from cameras documenting the behind the camera work during the filming. But wait there's more! (It slices! It dices! It makes millions of julienne fries!) There are also deleted scenes from the first three Lethals, including alternate endings. An interview gallery, a gag reel, cast and crew bios, and nine theatrical trailers, including all four of the series and Forever Young, The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Tequila Sunrise, and The Color Purple round out the special content on side B. The commentary by Richard Donner, with a few comments here and there by his assistants, is actually pretty informative on subjects such as contemporary filmmaking and politics, both studio and national. Occasionally they even talk about the film.
The national politics, basically a rail against the NRA, wasn't truly something I look for in a director's commentary. I'm not mad it's there, but it was a downside, regardless of your position on the politics.
The film isn't all it could be. It seemed more of a farewell address to the series, with a scene for
Lethal Weapon 4 is a good movie. It's not particularly great, and it's not as good as the first one, which in fact I think is the best one. So if you've not seen these films begin with the first; if you like it, try the others. It's certainly worth a rental for anyone who has seen the others in the series, and for fans of them a purchase. At $24.95, it's priced right too.
Warner is commended on a great disc. This Premiere series needs to become the standard of all their titles. The film is acquitted. I look forward to other Donner films, even with Mel Gibson, though I'm not particularly yearning for a Lethal Weapon 5. This one finishes the series before it becomes a joke despite itself.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Outtake Reel
* Interview Gallery
* Cast and Crew Bios
* Nine Theatrical Trailers