Sunday, May 31, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Lethal Weapon 4

First written: July 11, 1998
Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, back in action
Note: This review was written during a brief period in summer of '98 when I was experimenting with star ratings instead of the letter grades I've since settled on.

Right at the beginning of Lethal Weapon 4 there's a scene that perfectly encapsulates the continued appeal of the Lethal movies after more than ten years and three sequels. An armored, flamethrower-wielding psycho is barbecuing the LA metropolitan area, with the police powerless to do anything. Taking refuge behind a wrecked car, rain pouring down and fires burning all around them, Sergeants Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) concoct a plan.

Instructing his partner to doff his clothing, dance around, and cluck like a chicken (serving as a distraction), Riggs takes aim at the fuel tank on the arsonist's back, resulting in a flying, flame-spewing perp, an exploding gas station, and Murtaugh in his skivvies. Happily turning to his partner, Murtaugh exclaims, "Do you think that clucking like a chicken helped?" Without missing a beat, Riggs chuckles, "No, I just wanted to see if you'd do it."

It's moments like these bits of inspired lunacy that have helped keep the 11-year-old action/comedy franchise fresh and viable even after all these years. It's doubtful that any other actors in Hollywood could pull off the rapport between Riggs and Murtaugh quite as naturally and skillfully as Gibson and Glover. Much of the interplay between the two comes off like we're eavesdropping on the conversations between two bosom buddies, which is as it should be.

Director Richard Donner, with the series from the beginning, doesn't bring anything new or particularly groundbreaking to the table on this go-round. In fact, the film is really just another entry in what is ostensibly a TV series for the big screen. From all reports, it seems that the film's script, a haphazard exercise about Chinese counterfeiting and smuggling illegal immigrants, was being cut-and-pasted together while the movie was actually being filmed.

This is actually quite evident, as the movie careens wildly from one wacky action set piece to the next, running on pure adrenaline. Many of hte scenes and dialogue exchanges were supposedly improvised on the spot by the two leads. With any other film this approach could have bred disaster, but in a movie like this, plot is really secondary to the interplay and action, both in high supply. Gibson, Glover, and company are so talented that even their outtakes would be gems.

The Lethal series has been fortunate to build up a steady repertoire of outstanding supporting players during the course of its run. Making return visits this time around, Joe Pesci (with the series since Lethal 2) and Rene Russo (carried over from Lethal 3). The film film also boasts the comedic presence of Chris Rock as Lee Butters, the police officer who is also Murtaugh's son-in-law (unbeknownst to the erstwhile sergeant).

Rock only adds to the movie's fly-by-the-seat feel, where just about anything goes -- long a Lethal tradition. Also, making his American film debut, is Hong Kong action sensation Jet Li, the best of the Lethal villains. The reason one goes to see a Lethal Weapon movie isn't to see some future Oscar winner, but simply to watch old friends at it again, obviously having a blast doing what they're doing. After four films and countless adventures, these characters have become a family and they've become part of ours too. **** (out of five)

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