Thursday, June 03, 2010

“Oh, gunfight, explosions, sharks, you know, the usual.”

Well, here’s 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4 (Director‘s Cut), the last in the series. 3 wasn’t bad, but it did feel a little dull around the edges. I have to admit, the modest 2 disc set with all four movies has so far been a totally worthwhile investment for 10 bucks.

So our heroes are facing the very real fact that they are getting on in years, but on the bright side, Riggs’ lover is pregnant and so is Murtaugh’s eldest daughter, so life springs eternal, yes? After a chance encounter on a boat, they stumble upon a boat smuggling Chinese slave laborers into the country to work for a counterfeiting ring run by the Triads, who are looking to expand their operations in the US considerably.

Sergeant Martin Riggs: Mel Gibson’s Riggs is finally starting to slow down as a cowboy cop. He’s got a girlfriend and a baby on the way. His life is finally turned around from where it was in the first movie. Its kind of nice to see him finally in a stable, happy relationship after four movies.

Sergeant Roger Murtaugh: Danny Glover’s Murtaugh is finally going to become a grandpa, though he doesn’t know it yet and his family is keeping it a secret from him. He also takes in a family of Chinese illegals from the boat because he kind of sees himself “freeing slaves” as he puts it (cheesy, yes, but also kind of nice of him).

Detective Lorna Cole: Rene Russo spends the whole movie pregnant, so she doesn’t get to beat ass like in 3. Still, she’s fine in the role for what it is.

Leo Getz: Joe Pesci’s character is now a private investigator, much to the endless amusement of our heroes. Still the same foul-mouthed rascal he was in the other films, he also gets a moment near the end where he gets to develop the character past the second dimension in a surprisingly touching monologue.

Rianne Murtaugh Butters: Traci Wolfe (who’s been in all of the Lethal Weapon movies as Murtaugh’s eldest daughter, I just left her off the reviews because each time previously would’ve read: She feels somewhat attracted to Riggs and at some point gets threatened or captured in the movie) is daddy’s little girl all grown up. She’s secretly pregnant and engaged to:

Detective Lee Butters: Chris Rock is a new cop on the force and an eager go-getter. And, since he’s going to be Roger’s son-in-law, he tries to make nice to him all the time. Murtaugh, amusingly enough, mistakes Butters for a homosexual for the level of ass kissing done.

Wah Sing Ku: Jet Li gets to be the badass of the film not just because he’s a martial arts superstar, but also because we’ve finally got a layered villain with some sympathetic qualities who remains a total bastard. He’s a bad man who’s big in the Triads and in charge of the counterfeiting ring. His goal is to secure the release and delivery to America of the “Four Fathers,” a group of very high ranking Triads.

Richard Donner and director of photography Andrzej Bartkowiak handle the visuals very well in this one. And it’s got all the expected Lethal Weapon touches: car chases, shootouts, occasional fistfights and explosions. Nothing wrong with being consistent. Particularly memorable is the opening scene where our heroes have to take out a guy with a homemade flamethrower and suit of armor. Its not really important to the plot, but who cares? Its like Ned Kelly with a flamethrower vs. Riggs & Murtaugh.

Characters created by Shane Black, with Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough & Miles Millar on story and Channing Gibson on screenplay. That may be a lot of names, but you know what, the story is quite a bit better than 3 and 2 in a lot of ways (Major points for giving us a good villain again). What I do have to admit (and this is for the whole franchise) is that despite the different writing teams and the constant additions of new characters to the recurring cast, the series really handles character growth and interaction really well. The characters click together very nicely which helps elevate the series above the often silly and implausible turns the plots take.

Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton & David Sanborn once more, and why break up a team that works, I say. There’s also songs from Van Halen & War.

Lethal Weapon 4 is a solid cap for the franchise, and you know what, it’s a fun series. Sure its not pretentiously high art, but it does deliver solid character-driven action/comedy with great banter and great action scenes. These are not bad things by any means. There are considerably worse ways to waste your time. I suppose the inevitable comparison to Die Hard must be made, what with the first films in each series being awesome (initially) Christmas-themed action thrill rides, but ultimately its really a case of looking at Coke & Cherry Coke. Its still the same sugar water, just with enough variations in flavor to justify appreciating them independently.

Now if only there had been a crossover film at some point with John McLane teaming up with Riggs & Murtaugh. Now that non-existent film would’ve had some killer explosions. Le Sigh.

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