Judge Dennis Prince wonders which is more lethal, a franchise that doesn't take itself seriously or a series that disenfranchises itself in its second take.
Our reviews of Lethal Weapon 2: Director's Cut (published June 8th, 2000), Lethal Weapon 2 (HD DVD) (published November 7th, 2006), and Lethal Weapon Collection (Blu-ray) (published June 4th, 2012) are also available.
Tagline: The Magic is Back!
Well, just as quickly as a film franchise was born, it quickly sought to pimp itself to recapture more movie "magic." The problem is, some follow-on efforts aren't magic at all, but rather reveal themselves as cheap parlor tricks. It's disappointing, then, to see the fun pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover fast devolved into this diluted duo. Although the studio excitedly proclaimed the "magic" was back, the audience quickly realized the trick had already been turned at the box office window.
And—presto!—your money has disappeared.
Facts of the Case
Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is a man very much committed to his family and eagerly looking forward to his nearing retirement from the L.A. police force. While he's ready to settle into the sunset years of his lifelong career, he's still partnered with the manic Martin Riggs (Gibson), a younger cop who may by crazy, may be suicidal, and may wind up getting them both killed. But as partners go, these two are tightly bound despite their differences, having worked together to successfully foil that drug smuggling ring a couple of years back. A new problem, though, has presented itself in the form their new assignment, protecting key witness Leo Getz (Joe Pesci, Home Alone). Getz is troublesome, as aggravating as a kid brother who won't shut up and insists on tagging along where he's not wanted. But the real problem springs from his involvement in laundering funds for a group of South African thugs. It seems a South African diplomat, Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland, Once Upon a Crime), and his entourage have determined to use the L.A. harbor as the point of their biggest transfer of illicit funds. As Riggs and Murtaugh work to frustrate Rudd and his efforts, they likewise find themselves entangled in a number of explosive situations—literally. And, really, it wouldn't be so bad if only Leo would just shut up!
"Okay, okay, okay, okay, this is the best part okay? You make a tax deduction on interest payments you don't even make! Am I an innovator? Am I a genius?"
Without a doubt, Lethal Weapon 2 was a box office success, and many fans of the franchise cite it as a favorite. To be sure, the film provides plenty of fun in its wacky wit, Gibson given to numerous Three Stooges send ups and Pesci existing more for yuks than plot advancement. The divergent personal goals between Riggs and Murtaugh still provide the requisite conflict, this time played for laughs rather than character exposition, but the film doesn't solely rely on this aspect to support the narrative. Instead, the film utilizes Leo Getz as a new player and common target of the buddy cops' verbal outbursts. He's amusing but he draws away from the somewhat more satisfying serious streak of the first film. This one is played as near slapstick, yet it's curiously underscored with a much bloodier dose of violent goings-on. The action set pieces swing from extremes of near absurd (an exploding toilet) to sadistic (a nail-gun dispatching). The tone likewise veers from side to side, as when Gibson cites Three Stooges lines when confronting the baddies, then alternately cops a serious determination after losing a special friend. The extremes work well enough, given the overall flavor of the picture, yet they just don't satisfy quite as much as the initial outing. From this point forward, its just a formulaic "caper" endeavor that challenges you to remember this one from installments three and four.
Despite some misgivings over the script, the acting on tap is as solid as you'd expect from a cast like this. Gibson and Glover deliver more of the same—crazed confrontation paired with exasperated devotion. Gibson still walks the mental health tightrope, and reveals a bit more of his traumatic background to the Murtaugh family. Glover just wants to see his character safely into retirement, yet it's his pained allegiance to the force and his partner that keeps him huffing and puffing in this thankless occupation. Pesci excels so much so as motor mouth standing firmly on the cops' last raw nerve that he earned himself permanent inclusion in their company for the subsequent two films.
Another dual-format release from Warner Brothers, Lethal Weapon 2 is offered in this Blu-ray disc as an alternative to their previous HD DVD issue. Just as with the Lethal Weapon disc that preceded it, this Blu-ray offering was also struck from the same encode as the HD DVD disc. Therefore, you'll find another capable VC-1 encode that breathes new life into this older film. The picture quality is solid and is buoyed by improved production values. The image is quite sharp and well defined. The colors are brighter this time around and the contrast is more striking than the first film, again stemming from an improvement in the overall look of the film itself. From a high-definition standpoint, this is just as competent as the first film. Incidentally, there is a bit of moiré effect on tap, but it's thankfully infrequent. The audio comes by way of a 640bps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, working to improve the soundstage beyond the capabilities of the former Standard Definition release, yet the low end, improved though it is, doesn't seem to perform to its fullest potential; it rumbles but never to the level of punch we've come to expect of late. Extras are slim again, this time with a curt 4-minute Stunts and Action featurette and another disposable four minutes of extended scenes. The theatrical trailer wraps up the extra features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Granted, if you like the slapstick nature of cop capers that are as wacky as they are wicked, then Lethal Weapon 2 is just your cup o' joe. Pesci makes the absolute most of his role, chewing up everything in site as the fast talking yet somewhat dimwitted Leo Getz. Gibson and Glover play well off of him, giving their characters' own potentially contentious relationship a bit of breathing room. And if you like badder-than-bad villains, this picture delivers them in near-James Bond style, Rudd and his ruffians seeming to have just stepped off the Pinewood Studios lot.
While there's no denying the success of this first franchise sequel, the fact is that Lethal Weapon 2 failed to make the most of its predecessor, opting for the easier track of absurdity amid action. If approached with this mindset, there's plenty to enjoy, but when compared to the mark set by the first picture, this one is just a goof.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Featurette: Stunts and Action
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