Lethal Weapon

Dir: Richard Donner, 1987


Mad Max brought it’s star, Mel Gibson, attention. But, it was Lethal Weapon that brought him recognition.

Buddy cop movies weren’t born with this film, yet it’s, arguably, the most famous of its genre.

Unhinged ex-vietnam vet, Martin Riggs, is suicidal after the death of his wife.

Riggs becomes partnered with detective Roger Murtaugh, an old school detective.

Murtaugh is contacted by an old army friend, who’s daughter died by jumping off a balcony while high on cocaine.

It becomes apparent, that his daughter was also involved in pornography and prostitution.

The girl’s father admits that he was involved in a heroin smuggling operation and his daughter was killed by the organisation because he wanted out.

It’s up to Riggs and Murtaugh to work together and bring the company down at any cost, despite the hostility between the new partners.

This first installment in the tetralogy is more action and thriller based, with slight injections of comedy.  This is a disadvantage, however, as much of the joy comes from the interactions between the two unlikely friends and, even less likely, partners.

The title, Lethal Weapon, actually refers to Gibson’s character, Riggs. Violent and unstable, Riggs is a walking time bomb, primed and ready to explode without any of his buttons being pushed. The character isn’t as defined as it is in the later films, and Gibson hasn’t quite got the hang of him, appearing as a clone of his earlier role, Max Rockatansky.

For the director’s cut, several scenes were added and an important one is Riggs picking up a prostitute and paying her just to watch television with him. The scene, really, should have been left in as it further develops Riggs’s character. This is a man so broken, that he resorts to paying for company.

It’s worth remembering that Lethal Weapon came only a mere two years after his starring role in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and, in some ways, Mel was a little bit typecast. At this point, he still hadn’t mastered the American accent and twangs of Australian creep in, fairly often.

Danny Glover is in the best role of his career. Gruff and tough, Glover is entirely believable as the out of shape and creaky detective, but still a crack shot with his firearm.

Gary Busey is… well, Gary Busey. He’s the same in every film he’s in. As psychotic and sadistic Mr. Joshua, I’m not entirely sure that there was much acting involved. Holding his arm over lit fag lighters and withstanding the pain, I believe that this may just be footage of him having a day off from filming. Crazy, wild eyed and with teeth borrowed from The Osmonds, Busey is a fairly good henchman to Mitchell Ryan’s comic book portrayal of a drug baron and archetypal kingpin.

Being an ’80’s movie, you have to suspend your disbelief at Riggs’s heroics. The injuries he sustains and tortures he endures, would have killed ten men but, no. Our “Lethal Weapon” packs the stamina of a horse and the power of a tank, forcing his way through the finale.

By contemporary standards, Shane Black’s script is by the numbers and formulaic but, for it’s era, still feels fresh.

There’s plenty to enjoy, here, and the film isn’t bogged down by a overly long running time. It just needed the addition of stronger laughs.

Lethal Weapon is an entertaining ride and remains one of the best in its genre.


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