Lethal Weapon (1987) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, drug content, sexuality, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 110 min. (117 min. director's cut)
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitch Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Jackie Swanson
Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: Shane Black
Review published April 19, 2005
Setting the standard for cop buddy movies for years to come, Lethal Weapon may not have revolutionized the genre, but definitely proves to be an exceptionally efficient example of how the formula can work when the star chemistry is just right. Mixing hard-boiled action, cheeky comedy, serious drama, and gritty camerawork, director Richard Donner (The Goonies, Superman) blends just the right elements together for a fun and thoroughly satisfying vehicle for all lovers of action-thrillers. From the action-packed 1980s along with Die Hard, Lethal Weapon remains one of the few truly enduring movies that are just as entertaining today as it was at the time of its release.
It also proved to be Mel Gibson’s (The Bounty, The Road Warrior) breakthrough role into superstar status, playing burn-out LAPD detective Martin Riggs, an ex-special ops agent suffering from the recent loss of his beloved wife, finding it close to impossible to cope on a daily basis, stopping just short of suicide due to the job. He is soon teamed up with seasoned vet Roger Murtaugh (Glover, Silverado), just having celebrated his 50th birthday, not wanting to deal with any more of the usual drama, both on the job and at home. Their first assignment together revolves around the apparent murder of the daughter of an old friend of Murtaugh’s. As they begin to dig deeper into the events, the more they begin to suspect something far more sinister at play, as they uncover a large-scale covert drug smuggling operation, run by powerful people that will do anything to keep their money rolling in, including taking out a couple of nosy cops.
As mentioned previously, it all comes down to the abundance of cast chemistry as to why Lethal Weapon succeeds in being much more than a standard comic buddy cop flick. The interplay between high-strung hotshot Riggs and lackadaisical family man Murtaugh is sheer perfection, which carries the momentum of the film from scene to scene, especially making even the quieter moments, such as dinner with the family, just as interesting as when the pace kicks into high gear. When the action does unfold, we also have a vested interest in the outcome, as the character development makes us care about the very likeable duo, while also giving the actions of the bad guys a more nefarious edge necessary to make things truly harrowing once things get brutal.
While some of the events in the film stretch the limits of credibility, all in all, this is about as riveting and exciting an action-packed thriller as one could ever reasonably hope for in a mainstream Hollywood release. The performances, particularly by the always-underrated Mel Gibson, are top-notch, cementing the franchise for many years to come. One of the best examples, if not the very best, of the buddy cop genre.
-- Followed by Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 3, and Lethal Weapon 4.
©2005 Vince Leo