Judge Clark Douglas hates to say it, but it's probably him.
Our reviews of Lethal Weapon 2 (Blu-Ray) (published March 22nd, 2007), Lethal Weapon 2: Director's Cut (published June 8th, 2000), Lethal Weapon 2 (HD DVD) (published November 7th, 2006), Lethal Weapon 3 (published June 26th, 1999), Lethal Weapon 3: Director's Cut (published June 8th, 2000), Lethal Weapon 4 (published January 26th, 2000), Lethal Weapon (Blu-Ray) (published March 22nd, 2007), Lethal Weapon: Director's Cut (published June 6th, 2000), and Lethal Weapon (HD DVD) (published July 17th, 2006) are also available.
The smash hits that started the buddy cop movies!
"I don't make things difficult. That's the way they get, all by themselves."
Facts of the Case
In Lethal Weapon, homicide cops Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, Braveheart) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover, The Color Purple) team up to take down a villainous drug kingpin (Mitch Ryan, Dharma and Greg) and his savage right-hand man Joshua (Gary Busey, The Firm).
In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs and Murtaugh are tasked with protecting a chatty informant named Leo Getz (Joe Pesci, Raging Bull) and taking down a corrupt South African diplomat (Joss Ackland, The Hunt for Red October).
In Lethal Weapon 3, Riggs and Murtaugh are required to take down a former-police-officer-turned-arms-dealer (Stuart Wilson, The Mask of Zorro). Meanwhile, Riggs begins to develop feelings for internal affairs department member Lorna Cole (Rene Russo, The Thomas Crown Affair).
In Lethal Weapon 4, Riggs and Murtaugh are forced to confront a ruthless Chinese gangster (Jet Li, Fearless) in an attempt to bring a halt to local slave-trading. Meanwhile, Lorna is pregnant, Leo has become a private investigator and Murtaugh's daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) has secretly gotten married to young police detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock, Head of State).
There's nothing particularly special about the stories told in Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon series, but there's something very special about the two people who anchor those stories. In these four films, actors Mel Gibson and Danny Glover elevate ordinary cop thrillers into immensely entertaining experiences. Few big-screen duos have been to generate effortless chemistry as well as these two, and their push/pull relationship constantly enlivens potentially conventional sequences. They're initially presented as two basic character types: Glover's Murtaugh is the weary, stable family man and Gibson's Riggs is the energetic, partially insane live wire. However, by the time the series concludes—for that matter, by the time the first movie concludes—these guys feel like real human beings rather than mere character types.
The buddy flick had been around for years before this series came into being, but Lethal Weapon did some significant fine-tuning and improved the format. The film is endlessly surprising in the way it actually pauses to consider its characters and their situation between scenes of things blowing up real good. We're meant to care about these guys, and we do. The manner in which Riggs and Murtaugh are forced to lean on each other is one of the most consistently moving elements of the series, and their relationship is perfectly summarized by that cheesy yet glorious slow-motion sequence when they simultaneously spring into action during the final act and then settle into an exhausted, mutually comforting embrace. Though its impact has been slightly diluted by countless imitators, Lethal Weapon brings life to routine sequences simply by reconfiguring them a little bit. Consider the introduction of Riggs (in which Gibson takes down a group of murderous things): it could have simply been a typical "here's the badass hero" routine, but Gibson invigorates it with an unexpected blend of playful silliness and alarming recklessness (a factor explained shortly after during a searing scene in which Riggs contemplates suicide—easily one of the finest moments of Gibson's acting career). Shane Black's zippy dialogue is a pleasure to listen to, and the plot's routine nature is rendered a moot point thanks to Donner's engaging handling of the action sequences. The villains are a little short-changed at times (though Gary Busey's Joshua does get one of the film's funniest lines), but otherwise it's hard to find much fault in this entertaining, surprisingly soulful action movie. It's also the grittiest flick of the bunch, demonstrating some hard edges which would slowly be softened as the series proceeded.
Lethal Weapon 2 offers a slight shift in tone, and its mood is signified early on by a pair of key indicators: a few notes of the famous "Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" (a.k.a. "The Looney Tunes Theme") melody over the opening logo and a brief scene in which Gibson giggles while watching an old Three Stooges short (the first of numerous Stooges references littered throughout the film). In other words, Lethal Weapon 2 takes itself less seriously than the first and is considerably more cartoonish in nature. The gags are broader, the jokes come faster and there are fewer genuinely dark moments. There's a lot of debate among fans of the series as to whether the first or second film is the best, and the answer to that question really depends on what you want the series to be. The missing intensity is certainly noticeable, but thankfully we're rarely given reason to miss it too much. The frisky, funny second film sets the tone for the remainder of the franchise and is an immensely satisfying experience on its own terms. Despite the goofier atmosphere, there are still some rather moving moments between Riggs and Murtaugh littered throughout (a scene involving an explosive placed in Murtaugh's bathroom veers from hilarity to pathos in impressive fashion). Delightfully, Donner and company allow the two characters to build on the friendship they had developed by the first film's conclusion rather than hitting the reset button on their relationship and forcing them to start bickering again. This time, the playful arguments are inspired by new addition Leo Getz, who manages to prove a major source of irritation for both Riggs and Murtaugh (though not the audience—that's another tricky balancing act which the film pulls off impressively). Joe Pesci is a delight in the role, and fills each of his scenes with a spastic energy which constantly invigorates the film without ever overwhelming it.
Many regard Lethal Weapon 3 as a significant step down for the franchise. Granted, some of the fresh ideas offered by the first couple of films have turned into predictable conventions by this point, but the movie still delivers a generous supply of blustery fun. Additionally, Gibson and Glover are on fire in the film, having fine-tuned their offbeat chemistry to a perfect pitch. The best element the film delivers is Rene Russo, whose Lorna Cole is a terrific new addition to the series. Her scenes of romantic banter with Gibson sparkle, and she's thoroughly convincing when she's required to handle action material. However, it must be admitted that it's the first film in the series which leans a little too heavily on explosive spectacle (this series is generally better at intimate conversations and intense personal battles than it is at large-scale set pieces—the post-credits scene in particular is a hilarious piece of pointless excess) and the only film which features an entirely forgettable villain. These flaws aren't enough to significantly cripple the movie, but it certainly demonstrates that Donner and co. were beginning to run out of ways to keep the series fresh.
Finally, we have the much-derided Lethal Weapon 4. Is it the weakest film of the series? Yeah, probably. Is it a bad movie? Not at all. Granted, almost everything Lethal Weapon 4 has to offer was presented more effectively in the previous three films (Lorna Cole was more dynamic, Leo Getz was funnier, Riggs was more wildly unpredictable and Murtaugh was…well, actually, Murtaugh remains a pretty consistent factor throughout the whole series), but the movie functions as a modestly enjoyable action flick on its own terms. The quips and explosions aren't quite as enthralling and surprising as they once were, but it's still a pleasure to hang out with these people (even if Chris Rock's Leo Butters never quite meshes with the rest of the cast). The best thing about Lethal Weapon 4 is the manner in which it functions as a swan song for the series; a role it handles with aplomb. The more sentimental side of the film works tremendously well: Riggs' fear of marriage and children, the realization that both guys are now actually "too old for this $#%@" and particularly that surprisingly moving dialogue exchange between Leo and Riggs which takes place late in the film. When the end credits roll and a series of candid cast-and-crew photos are presented to the strain of "Why Can't We Be Friends?," it feels genuinely sweet (and a little bittersweet, given that in the years since Russo and Pesci have semi-retired and Gibson has seemingly transformed into a different person).
The Lethal Weapon Collection (Blu-ray) delivers a series of increasingly impressive transfers (a 1.85:1/1080p effort for the first film and 2.40:1/1080p for all of the sequels). Thankfully, we're not dealing with the shabby transfers Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2 were dealt when they were given standalone hi-def releases a few years ago. Both movies have been remastered and look vastly better than ever before. Lethal Weapon opens with soft, ugly, excessively grainy shots, but things get dramatically better afterwards. Blacks are deep and inky, detail is strong throughout and flesh tones are warm and natural. The Lethal Weapon 2 transfer is a little sharper, but generally comparable to the treatment the first film receives. Still, things really turn impressive when we get to Lethal Weapon 3, which offers a measure of fairly remarkable clarity and depth. It's quite rare to see a film 20 years old look this sharp, and the picture is immersive on a level that the first two simply can't touch. Finally, Lethal Weapon 4 offers the strongest image of the bunch, a dazzling display of eye-popping detail and vivid color.
The story is basically the same in the audio department: The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks which accompany each film get progressively more impressive from installment to installment. The original Lethal Weapon isn't exactly a sonic masterpiece, but it has a considerable amount of kick considering its age. Things get more aggressive and immersive with each installment, and it's fair to say that the Lethal Weapon 4 track is all kinds of spectacular. The musical contributions from Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn (a genuinely inspired trio of talented musicians) are well-handled in every case, though it's interesting to note that the music is increasingly pushed into the background in favor of sound design as the series progresses. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout the entire saga. Taking the assorted ages of each film into consideration, I doubt anyone will have any serious complaints about the work Warner Bros. has done on the series.
There's a host of new supplemental material to dig through, but not all of it is worth your time. Let's start with the brand-new stuff: just-recorded audio commentaries from Richard Donner on the first three films and a quartet of featurettes documenting the making of the entire series. The commentaries are honestly pretty dull, with a lot of lengthy pauses and repeated information separating the worthwhile insights. Not all directors are capable of handling a solo commentary, and Donner probably would have benefited from some company. Alternate, the featurettes ("Psycho Pension: The Genesis of Lethal Weapon," "A Family Affair: Bringing Lethal Weapon to Life," "Pulling the Trigger: Expanding the World of Lethal Weapon" and "Maximum Impact: The Legacy of Lethal Weapon") are informative, entertaining and well-produced affairs which provide a nice overview of the series. These feature recently-recorded interviews with almost all of the key cast and crew members and run just under two hours combined. All four of these are housed on a bonus Blu-ray disc, while the commentaries are of course featured on the discs of the films they accompany.
Additionally, the previously released supplements are repeated here: Lethal Weapon delivers a music video and a trailer. Lethal Weapon 2 offers a disposable "Stunts and Action" featurette, some deleted scenes and a trailer. Lethal Weapon 3 turns in deleted scenes, a music video and a trailer. Finally, Lethal Weapon 4 reprises its more generous supplemental package, including a commentary with Donner and producers Geoff Johns and J. Mills Goodloe (vastly more interesting than the three Donner solo tracks), a half-hour featurette hosted by Danny Glover entitled "Pure Lethal: New Angles, New Scenes and Explosive Outtakes" and a trailer.
The Lethal Weapon Collection delivers a consistently entertaining action franchise well worth revisiting. It's a series which is unafraid of both loopy comic detours and wearing its heart on its sleeve. Though the levels of success vary from film to film, the Lethal Weapon movies are shining examples of action/comedy done right. Considering the impressive audio and video the Blu-ray set delivers, this one's an easy recommendation.
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