Richard Donner directs Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Jet Li in this action comedy where Riggs & Murtagh take down some Chinese people smugglers.
I’m guessing it was around Christmas of 1997 that the Warner Brothers executives shuffled ashen faced out of a rough cut of their big Uma Thurman The Avengers remake and collectively realised they did not have a tentpole release for the coming summer season. A Lethal Weapon sequel was greenlit, scripted, filmed and edited within a record breaking 6 months. I first saw posters for it on holiday in Paris and it was a shock. None of Empire’s or Premiere’s January Preview Of 1998 issues has made any mention of Lethal Weapon 4 coming. That’s how quickly it was made. And it is all the better for it. This is a zippy, breathless, natural concoction. Action packed. The carnage and inventiveness of the flamethrower opener or the freeway chase are unlike anything the series has seen. Million dollar slapstick. The magic chemistry of Mel and Danny is given plenty of screentime together and they even takedown Jet Li’s formidable villain in unison for the first time. Riggs is getting “too old” to beat down the big bad by himself at this point. Joe Pesci said ‘Yes’ only after shooting began and new addition Chris Rock’s character had a hasty rewrite when everyone agreed the original intent of making his character gay didn’t work. So most of their bickering is together, separate from the action. Like little screechy time outs. Rock is one of the funniest men alive, though not the best actor, so his outbursts almost feel like everyone stops to watch him do a skit. It doesn’t gel but you’d miss his Detective Butters if they do ever make a 5. Russo is the only returning player who maybe deserved a little more attention but who knows what her shooting availability was at such late notice? This is a movie that feels almost a million miles away from the hard edge psychosis of the 1987 original but a definite improvement on the weak action and aimless frivolity of the third entry. Made with the intention of being the final word on a beloved franchise, there are legacy moments that feel a little too indulgent but in the main Lethal Weapon 4 proves a glorious unashamed piece of Hollywood entertainment. Knowing they don’t make them like this anymore means it has actually aged well beyond its mercenary motivations. Even if Donner, Gibson, Glover and Warners had a more artistic reason to revive the series in either 1998 or 2021 it is unlikely to turn out as spectacular and warm hearted as this did.
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