Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci. Rene Russo, Stuart Wilson

What better reason to try new things than because we need a break from the norm? Routine is fine, but if we always did the same thing, there would be no room for excitement; no chance for mystery. We would always know every moment of every day in advance from beat to beat. Yet, in some instances, routine is best. In those instances, straying from the norm upsets the natural balance, and therein lies chaos. Movies, and reviews of movies, act in much the same way. Horror movies, especially the franchises of the 1980’s, worked best when they adhered to a specific formula. “Friday the 13th” was the best example. Once the series started to take risks and move away from the elements that made it popular in the first place, the result was a product the fanbase could no longer recognize. In the case of the action series, “Lethal Weapon,” the exact opposite proves to be true. These movies worked best when they were at their most daring. By the time of “Lethal Weapon 3,” the saga of Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtagh (Danny Glover) had slipped into a more “comfortable” formula.

Roger Murtagh is a week away from retirement… but don’t believe it, because there’s still a “Lethal Weapon 4” in his future. He’s even putting the family home up for sale. His wife is adamant that he take care of himself, which of course means that he’ll find his way into trouble on each of his remaining days on the force, especially with a guy like Martin Riggs as his partner. Trouble begins one night with the terroristic demolition of a large building downtown. Murtagh and Riggs were on the scene and were supposed to wait for the bomb squad, but Riggs took it upon himself to cut what ended up being the wrong wire. Busted down to beat cop status, the two happen upon another crime in progress (or is it the other way around?) when an armored car is hijacked. Enlisting the aid of a second armored car’s driver, Murtagh backs up Riggs who manages to detain one of the thieves.

Before the case can go very far, the thief is executed by his boss, ex-LAPD Lieutenant Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), known for having been a particularly dirty cop who was sadistic when it came to the interrogation of suspects. He’s found a bigger payoff and fewer rules in arms dealing. Luckily for him, Travis just so happens to know where the city’s best supply is: the LAPD storage locker. He and his men are also loading their own personal weapons with armor-piercing bullets, ramping up the danger level. At the same time that Travis is sneaking in to kill his lackey, the LAPD is being paid a visit by Internal Affairs. Riggs and Murtagh meet Sgt. Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) in the elevator. Almost immediately, Lorna and Riggs start butting heads… a clear sign that they’ll wind up in bed together before it’s all over.

Without a doubt, Lorna Cole is the best thing about “Lethal Weapon 3.” Having been raised in a household full of boys, she’s hardly the damsel-in-distress type. She’s as good at knocking the bad guys on their asses as either of our two male heroes. Much to Riggs’ surprise, they share a love of the Three Stooges. In my favorite scene, they also share a certain pride in their battle scars, each playfully trying to one-up the other. Most of the scars Riggs points out are from wounds accumulated during the first two films. Lorna is the cure for the wound in his heart. While Lorna is a terrific new addition, one character lingers unnecessarily. As much as I loved him in “Lethal Weapon 2,” I have no idea what Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) is still doing here. Suddenly, he’s switched professions to that of a real estate agent, which conveniently keeps him around for Riggs and Murtagh to belittle him as they did before. Also convenient is his familiarity with Jack Travis, which nearly gets him killed at an L.A. Kings hockey game. Having Leo around again reminds us of why we liked him before, but it also reminds us of how well he fit into the story of the previous film.

The villain, Jack Travis, is almost as big a problem. As if the cop gone bad storyline weren’t overdone enough, his motives are either unclear or just plain uninspired. Sure, he’s stealing the weapons the LAPD has confiscated and is getting them back on the streets which is diabolical, but what is it all for besides money? Probably nothing, and this time, that’s just not enough. I’ve seen this movie several times, and I’m still not sure I understand how the construction site that figures in the climactic showdown was supposed to fit into everything. Travis is also not a terribly imposing figure, and pales in comparison to the Special Forces unit from “Lethal Weapon” and the South African druglords from “Lethal Weapon 2.”

Still, in spite of the flaws which make this a tepid, ordinary action movie, the chemistry between Gibson and Glover is still solid, and the humor is just as effective, even as the serious tone from the last two chapters which served as a counterbalance has been toned down. It’s also still fun to watch Riggs morph back into crazy Riggs when his life and the lives of those he cares about are threatened. I would have liked for this one to leave me feeling like I hadn’t seen the same story play out many times before. While Riggs and Murtagh have found that they have more to lose than ever before, I can’t help but wish that the filmmakers had taken the same approach.

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