Lethal Weapon (1987 - 1998)
Directed By: Richard Donner Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Mitchell Ryan, Gary Busey, Joss Ackland, Derrick O'Connor, Patsy Kensit, Stuart Wilson, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe
Certificate: 18 Running Time: Approx 460 minutes
Although they had been around for much longer, I don't think too many people would disagree that action cop thrillers were the province of the 80's. The decade saw many classics but the first such series I personally encountered was Lethal Weapon, mainly because the first film was released when I was 12 but, owing to the 18 certificate it had received, my dad wouldn't let me watch it. This just made it more intriguing to me and I did indeed end up seeing it before I was actually 18, which made me feel like a grown-up, naturally!
It must've sounded pretty generic on paper - two detectives, Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs: one a respected veteran, the other a cocky, trigger-happy upstart; one a devoted family man, the other a recently widowed loner; each of differing ages, racial backgrounds, and personalities; chalk and cheese, basically, and forced to work together to solve a seemingly simple murder which soon snowballs into a major drug-smuggling operation. It wasn't an original premise - it had been done many times before in largely unspectacular fashion. What made Lethal Weapon such a success was more down to its casting. Whether intentional or coincidental, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson had a great chemistry together which not only made them a team to root for, but also made them more likeable individually as well.
This was all a long time ago now though, obviously. Cop thrillers are different these days, generally much darker and more realistic, and I hadn't personally watched any of the Lethal Weapon films for years so, when I recently found myself wondering whether they can still hold their own against today's heavy hitters, I thought I'd watch them all again and find out! Read on to see what I thought:
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Alarmingly, despite the fact that I bought the fourth film on DVD – a seemingly modern technology – it's been a startling 15 years since we last saw a new Lethal Weapon film, although that's still much less scary than the 26 years since the first one appeared! In that time the genre has changed a lot but, as I've recently found, the series still has what it takes. The only thing that's really aged about the first film is Mel Gibson's hair - the story, the characters, the action... they're all still as enjoyable as the day I was finally allowed to see them! Despite its splendidness, my main interest in the second film was admittedly Patsy Kensit and her little boobies since I had something of a crush on her back then (before she got all the surgery) but it did of course turn out to be a superb sequel too, and remains arguably my favourite in the series (no, not just because of Ms. Kensit).
Ironically it's the two most recent instalments that have fared the worst. I suppose they've always been regarded as lesser entries in the series and on repeat viewings it's certainly a justified stance. The fourth film in particular, while containing most of the ingredients necessary, and being a pretty good film in its own right, just doesn't have the 'feel' of the earlier films. A joke in the film points out that even Riggs is "getting too old for this shit" by this stage, and indeed, he is starting to feel his age as much as Murtaugh was in the first film. Perhaps it was a sign that it was time to end the series. The final scene is certainly a fitting (if somewhat cheesy) way to end the series, but wait... what's that? Yes, there are in fact plans to 'reboot' the series, whether by an Abrams-style modernised remake or even a proper sequel with all the original cast. Should they make it? Probably not but I suppose it at least has the potential to be half-decent.
For now though, take my word for it and revisit these classics, especially the first two. Their popularity at the time may have led to dozens of 'buddy cop' films but none of them did it better than Riggs and Murtaugh...