Movie of the Week: Lethal Weapon (1987)


Richard Donner directs Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Gary Busey in this buddy cop action thriller about a high ranking LAPD detective partnered with a suicidal former special ops killer.

I remember watching clips of this after family dinner on Barry Norman’s Film 87 (they showed the “Do you really wanna jump?” suicide stunt and the shooting range plot recap, if you care to know). These glimpses certainly peaked my pre-pubescent interest. Then catching everything after Riggs’s Three Stooges Christmas tree drug bust in the bedroom of a friend’s house on a tiny 12 inch TV. And that was it.  Between the ages of 10 and 20, all I wanted to do with my life was to make a Lethal Weapon movie. I know I’m asking to be part of the rarest of breeds; only Richard Donner and the gang from Paddy’s Pub have ever achieved this echelon of greatness. Fair to say my twenties were a disappointment, completely living under the shadow that this was becoming less and less likely to happen. Luckily, I then met Natalie. A fine woman who loves Lethal Weapon even more than I do… hell she even likes 3?! We sing the happy clappy Murtagh family happy birthday song down the phone to family members (on their birthdays, we are not mentals). And she seems contented enough that I’ve matured into more of a Roger than a Martin. And, like a Die Hard, that’s kinda what makes Lethal Weapon perfect. It is a kaleidoscope of conflicting genres hidden in a simple action movie. It is a very romantic movie; both in Rigg’s devotion to his perfect dead wife; the rare time Hollywood shows a happy, normal middle class marriage with the Murtaughs; and between the growing trust and affection the two mismatched cops have for each other. Being Shane Black scripted, it makes for a brilliant alternative Christmas movie. Funny too, the constant banter has more zingers than a screwball comedy. And like Inception, it is a drama about a broken, obsolete man working through his grief via spectacular ass kicking work and becoming a valued member of a team. It even replays the Vietnam War – with the technologically under invested natives on their home turf taking on a capitalist mercenary machine over ideology and heroin. Metaphor, muthafuckers! The only thing Lethal Weapon doesn’t work as is a detective thriller. Bad guys kill girl, cops cause destruction and mayhem following leads into dead end, eventually bad guys just decide they don’t like the attention so kidnap and torture the cops for a finale. Even James Bond at least finds a relevant 5 Star spot to wait to be taken to the megalomaniac’s underground lair. But this isn’t about plotting, it is about moments. Moments of Riggs’ zany death games, meaning he will do anything to close a case and can do anything to kill a perp. Gibson is perfect in this, blending goofy clown with aggressive anguish, with convincing deadly accuracy. Bottled up rage has never gotten through so many checkered shirts. And the action, even though some of it comes in forced episodes, is brutal, kinetic and utterly engaging. You feel it as Mel pushes his body to the limits whether it is enduring electro shock torture, pelting down the boulevard barefoot with a sub machine gun, or grappling Gary Busey to the death in the rain. Gibson looks like he is feeling all that pain and exertion for us. At times he is a curly permed, one liner cracking, Christ on the Cross suffering the sins of the world to an Eric Clapton soundtrack. Absolutely Badass!



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