Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Lethal Weapon – Beyond Mad Max, Gibson Shows He Has Talent

Written by Shane Black
Directed by Richard Donner

It’s hard to remember a time when Mel Gibson wasn’t an immediately recognizable name. There was a time in the mid-1980s when he was known for his Mad Max roles and a string of other less than stellar performances. There was some question if he was doomed to be a one-role star, such as Sylvester Stallone who only seems to be good in roles that begin with the letter R.

Lethal Weapon changed all that, although it could be said that Gibson was good in roles that began with the letter M. After his success in this movie, he was a bankable star and a headliner. It was the catalyst for a series of films that would give him the clout to begin embarking on his own projects. That is until a drunken tirade one night cast a shadow over his whole career, followed by many other issues his handlers couldn’t “fix.”

Gibson is Martin Riggs. He’s a Los Angeles Detective with a few issues. His wife died just recently and Riggs can’t get past it. He lives in a trailer on the beach with his dog. At work, no one will team up with him. He’s about to bust some big-time drug traffickers on his own, but things just don’t go as planned. When the perp grabs Riggs and threatens to shoot him, rather than talk him out of it, Riggs encourages the man to pull the trigger.

Enter Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh. He’s just turned fifty and is inching closer to retirement. He’s got a beautiful teenage daughter who has him worried. All of this leaves him less than thrilled about the idea. When the daughter of a friend of his is found dead, apparently of a drug-induced suicide, he and Riggs are sucked into an elaborate get-rich-quick-through-drug-trafficking scheme dating back to Viet Nam.

If this sounds like your run-of-the-mill buddy cop flick, it isn’t. Simply because, at this time, it hadn’t really been done with a story of two men who were opposites in almost every way finding the camaraderie to get through the day – and a case – together. If you asked people to name a buddy-cop flick, I would venture a guess that Lethal Weapon would be one of the first that comes to most people’s minds.

Lethal Weapon is humorous in a dark sort of way. We laugh at Riggs’ antics because they are funny and they are meant to be. But what he is inside is filled with torment, and that humanizes him and makes him more real, rather than having him be a ridiculous comedic character. This is what separates this film from others who have tried to achieve the same thing. A cop who’s just a wise-cracking comedian doesn’t work as a character as well as one who’s acting that way to cover up what’s simmering beneath the surface.

Gibson was terrific in the role. He let loose and managed to seem crazy at times, but still captured the essence of a tragic figure. His Australian accent still bleeds through at times, so he hadn’t perfected the American voice fans became used to. It’s a mild distraction from an otherwise stellar performance; he makes Riggs a rounded character rather than one-dimensional.

Glover is terrific in the role that was something different. He was portraying an African-American cop that wasn’t a wise-cracking side-kick. He was the stable one; the one with the wife and family; the house and the boat; the plans for retirement. Still, their camaraderie works because the actors do such a fine job making it believable. Murtaugh sees the humanity behind Riggs’ actions, and as much as he seems to want the new partner away from him so he can survive to retirement, he also sees the human being there that he can’t just turn his back on.

The supporting cast was terrific as well. Darlene Love was wonderful as Roger’s wife, Trish. Her steadiness in the face of the craziness is the calm in the storm without losing one bit of her strength. Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua is masterful. He creates a truly scary villain who doesn’t bleed over into the area where he almost becomes a cartoon version of what we see as “the bad guys”.

The action is well-paced throughout the film. Some of the fight scenes are ridiculous, such as when Riggs and Joshua go mano-a-mano on Murtaugh’s front lawn. I just can’t see that happening anywhere in the real world. It’s a great fight sequence, but it just really strains the concept of suspending disbelief.

Lethal Weapon is a film that never seems to get old. It works as well now as it did 40 years ago. Ack!!! Was it really that long ago?

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