Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li

For a series that started with a story set around the Christmas holidays, it seems fitting that the “Lethal Weapon” series should end with one that’s all about family. But, as with the transition from one year to the next, it is not strictly endings of which this movie speaks, but also the thrilling uncertainty of new beginnings. Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtagh (Danny Glover) have been dodging bullets through three movies, with Riggs in particular having very little in this world to lose. With both now feeling a little too old for this shit, and each with pregnant loved ones, the risks that come with the job of an LAPD detective have become greater than ever before for our intrepid heroes.

As with “Lethal Weapon 3” this one starts off quite literally with a bang, although slightly downsized in terms of the scale of destruction. In deflating the hydrogen-fueled rage of a flamethrower-wielding madman, Riggs and Murtagh do not have to destroy an entire building to stop him. This time, they settle for blowing up a gas station. During this fiery opening, the two reveal to one another a secret which they’ve been keeping. Murtagh knows that Riggs’ girlfriend Lorna (Rene Russo) is pregnant. Riggs likewise informs Murtagh that he’s going to be a grandfather, a fact which Riggs has fun with after he hears from Lorna that the father of Murtagh’s oldest daughter’s child is Detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock). Nine months later, Riggs and Murtagh stumble across a large boat driven by Chinese smugglers. The cargo they’re carrying? Men, women and children, intended to be sold off as slave labor. Murtagh, being a descendant of slaves, doesn’t much care for the idea, and takes in an entire family.

While much of the action at the Murtagh home doesn’t add much to the story, what is of interest is the ultimate scheme of the villains. The man behind these nefarious activities, played by action star Jet Li (sporting a haircut which I refer to as the “Rattail of Doom”), is different from any foe Riggs and Murtagh have faced before. In the three previous films, each of the bad guys all had in common the pursuit of wealth. Jet Li’s character is only interested in counterfeiting money as a means to an end. His real goal is to use that money as a bargaining chip for the release from prison of some equally dangerous men, including his own brother.

At this point, anyone watching the series can go in expecting a few things to happen. For example: 1) An incident occurs that forces a promotion/demotion for Riggs & Murtagh. In this case, they are promoted to the rank of Captain. 2) The Murtagh household is going to be in a state of disrepair. This time, there may be no repairing it. 3) Riggs is going to have to pop his dislocated shoulder back into place. This is also generally the spot in the film where Riggs becomes his most pissed off. 4) Murtagh will be forced into an embarrassing situation that serves no purpose other than to amuse Riggs. This happens not once but twice.

As LW3 did, we retain co-stars from previous outings. Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) is only a little less useless this time, if only because he has good chemistry with Riggs and Murtagh, hilarious exchanges with Butters, and a touching moment with Riggs near the film’s end. Particularly disappointing is that Lorna, who was the feminine equal of Riggs last time, is reduced to little more than a baby machine this time around (although she does get a couple of licks in during one fight scene). Chris Rock as Butters is a great new addition, but I must say that if you find him funny here, I implore you to check out Rock’s stand-up act.

After a particularly bland adventure last time, this one still lacks the punch of the first two “Lethal Weapon” films, yet never stops trying. It’s helped in part by Jet Li, whom I’ve only ever seen play a bad guy role here. In fact, now that I think about it, this was actually the first of these movies I ever saw. On its own, its an entertaining action movie. I especially like the consistency in the casting (even Murtagh’s kids are all still being played by the same actors as they were eleven years earlier), which helps generate the familiarity necessary for a movie so concerned with the subject of family. By now, we’re so familiar with these people that we almost feel as though we know them. Talks of a “Lethal Weapon 5” have been thrown around for years, but I don’t believe it will (or should) ever happen… not without interest from its lead actors, who truly have become “too old for this shit.”

  1. This is the only one I haven’t seen yet. I might actually watch it tonight. Nice review, keep up the great work.
    Check out my film blog if you get the chance!

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