Lethal Weapon

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan

Barely more than five minutes pass in “Lethal Weapon” before three characters are individually introduced wearing little to no clothes. I’ve seen a lot of commentary about this portion of the film on the Internet, the discussion ranging from “Why not? What’s wrong with that?” to “What’s the point of it all?” I can’t disagree with the former, and I can answer the latter. Each of these three characters, when introduced to us, have in their own way reached a place in their lives where they are at their most vulnerable, where they can no longer hide who they are or how they feel. Hence, they are truly naked.

Amanda Hunsaker, whom we see first, is drugged out of her mind on cocaine, so much so that she thinks she can fly from her high-rise apartment building. The drugs, we later learn, were poisoned with drain cleaner, so poor Amanda would have been dead no matter what. Next, we meet one of the film’s protagonists in L.A.P.D. Sgt. Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover), who is enjoying a nice bath when his family barges into the bathroom with a cake. It’s Roger’s 50th birthday, and he’s considering retirement (emphasis on “considering”). Finally, we meet the other hero character of “Lethal Weapon.” Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a cop like Murtagh, and the two are destined to partner up. Unlike Murtagh, Riggs’ personal life is anything but stable. He’s still grieving for his wife, lost to him in a tragic car crash a couple of years earlier. He walks around the inside of his trailer in the buff, drinking himself silly. Every day, this man thinks about taking his own life. His wild hair reflects his unstable mind. Criminals and fellow cops alike think he’s crazy. The only reason Riggs won’t off himself, he admits, is “the job.” Riggs lives for taking down the bad guys. The main plot of “Lethal Weapon” gives him ample opportunity to do just that.

When Murtagh and Riggs are first paired up, there’s nothing either would rather do besides work together. Someone up there must hate them, they think. Murtagh just wants to get through this assignment alive, fearing that even his unstable new partner might get him killed. Riggs is still in such a bad place emotionally that he walks into the line of fire of a sniper, handcuffs himself to a rooftop jumper, and even dares Murtagh to shoot him during a private discussion. Riggs is also one of the greatest shots in the world. He was lethal during the Vietnam War, of which Murtagh is also a veteran. Riggs was in a U.S. Army Special Forces unit. This comes up because one of the perps they’re tracking down happens to wear the same tattoo as Riggs. That man is named Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey), and he’s part of a team which was… and is still… known as “Shadow Company.” These days, they’re drug traffickers, led by Gen. Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan). The revelation of the connection to Special Forces leads both to believe that Amanda’s father, an old army buddy of Murtagh’s, is connected somehow, and that his daughter was murdered to keep him in line. The involvement of Riggs and Murtagh in the case predictably serves to put them on Shadow Company’s radar. Murtagh, being a family man, has much more to lose than Riggs, and eventually a rescue operation becomes necessary.

A lot of buddy cop movies have come and gone, some completely becoming lost in the sands of time. But “Lethal Weapon” lingers on, and a lot of that is thanks to the chemistry created between actors Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Gibson is especially fun as Riggs. Even as we sympathize with this man’s broken heart and broken spirit, we can’t help waiting to see what kind of stunt he’ll pull next. Only Mel Gibson could have out-crazied Gary Busey. Certainly, with all of Riggs’ shenanigans, the movie could have easily been allowed to slip into farce territory. That’s where Murtagh, who provides the necessary stability to the story, comes in. He may have reached his sixth decade, but Roger’s no wimp either. You know the moment he points his gun and cranes his neck that shit’s about to get real.

As much as what goes on in front of the camera is entertaining, none of it would have the same impact without the personnel behind the lens. There is of course director Richard Donner, who also helmed 1978’s “Superman.” Providing the excellent screenplay is “Iron Man 3” director Shane Black. The beautiful soundtrack, which at times echoes the emotions of its characters just as easily as their appearance does, is provided by Michael Kamen and the one and only Eric Clapton, a true rock n’ roll god if ever there was one. Only one guitar in the world sounds like Clapton’s. Speaking of Michael Kamen, he would go on to do the soundtrack for “Die Hard,” another of the 80’s classic action fiicks. “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” also share in common several secondary actors, most of whom are used as henchmen for the bad guys in both movies.

I can’t speak as to what age is too young to see a movie of this kind (and, to be frank, I think that’s a decision left up to the individual), as it is most definitely a violent movie. That’s insignificant next to it’s status as a pure adrenaline rush, which is exactly what any great action movie is designed to be. There are few films of their kind which carry with them the replay value of a “Lethal Weapon.” No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the partnership of Riggs and Murtagh always feels fresh. This shit’s never going to get too old.


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