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Wednesday 28 December 2022

Burl reviews Lethal Weapon! (1987)


Getting too old for this shit, it’s Burl, here to review 80s buddy-cop carnage for you! Of course there had been buddy cops before this movie came out, and even black and white buddy cops as we have in this picture (Number One with a Bullet, anybody? Ha ha, anybody?), but the success of this particular duo led to an explosion (often literal) of buddy cops – in only the year and change after this one’s release we had alien/human buddy cops in Alien Nation and The Hidden; living/dead buddy cops in Dead Heat; American/Russian buddy cops in Red Heat; natty/slobbo buddy cops in Tango & Cash, and army/civilian buddy cops in The Presidio! And the movie that kicked this genre into high gear? Ha ha, Lethal Weapon, of course!

And as we know, the picture canonized another tradition: setting action movies around Christmas! Earlier action pictures – First Blood, To Live and Die in L.A., Cobra – had already flirted with a touch of noel flavouring, and then Die Hard came along the very next year to solidify the trend, and Die Hard 2 to lacquer it, but I think it was Lethal Weapon that made it a thing! Certainly it popularized the use of incongruous holiday music to make some kind of ironic point! And it goes that extra Christmas mile by casting Phil Spector’s Christmas Album superstar Darlene Love as Danny Glover’s wife!

The setup and story hardly bear repeating, but here goes! Mel Gibson, whom we recall from his roles in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Conspiracy Theory, plays Martin Riggs, so archetypally the emotionally hollowed-out cop that he seems a parody of the form; and whether he’s putting a gun in his mouth or sharing his dog’s breakfast or acting all bugeyed and crazy, he doesn’t seem much like a real person! This behaviour had more impact back when it was fresh, but it was never very realistic! Meanwhile, Danny Glover, well beloved from his role in The Dead Don’t Die, is Roger Murtaugh, whom I used to think was so old but is only just turning fifty as the picture opens! And just as Riggs is a near-parody, of course Murtaugh is the very model of the too-old-for-this-shit family-man cop still doing the job, but with half an eye on retirement and his driveway watercraft which ought to be named the Midlife Crisis! The introductory scene where he’s relaxing in his bath and the whole family bursts in to give him a birthday party while he’s in his birthday suit always struck me as odd, but I guess that’s the repressed North American in me!

The action is kicked off in the opening moments by a naked lady, zonked on the devil’s dandruff, plummeting to her doom from the top of a luxury tower! This unfortunate lady turns out to be the daughter of none other than Tom Atkins from Halloween III and Night of the Creeps, playing an old pal of Murtaugh’s called Hunsacker! Then we have the obligatory scenes in which Murtaugh meets-cop with Riggs and reluctantly becomes his partner; Riggs acts crazy and near suicidal and Murtaugh becomes upset; and Riggs comes over to the Murtaugh house for dinner and relations between the two buddy cops soften into a true partnership! Ha ha!

The baddies are a bunch of drug-smuggling army fellows led by a pocky old general played by Mitchell Ryan from Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers! The plot particulars are actually a bit murky, and there’s a sense of the filmmakers not really caring much about the mechanics of it, or how Hunsacker’s daughter's death plummet fits in! The important thing is how evil these fellows are, particularly Gary Busey from Silver Bullet playing Mr. Joshua, the general’s right-hand man, who literally offers up his right hand to be burned by a cigarette lighter on the general’s casual instruction just to make a point! And of course, ha ha, there’s perpetual hench Al Leong as Endo, who’s forgotten more about administering pain than the rest of us will ever know! Mr. Joshua’s pain endurance capabilities are not really explored beyond the cigarette lighter scene, and Endo’s legendary talents as, conversely, an inflictor of agony don’t seem to stretch beyond crude car battery electrocution, so in these senses the movie is more talk than walk!

But in other respects it’s a perfectly-wrought 80s action extravaganza, right down to the climactic front yard punchfight, complete with MTV effects provided by a spurting fire hydrant and a hovering helicopter spotlight, and cops kept at bay by only a few words from Glover! Richard Donner, who'd earlier brought us The Omen, directs the thing with about the right amount of flair, and the performances, as clichéd as they may seem to us today, are on point! It hums along like a well-tuned engine, and never mind how sketchy the plot is or how contrived the events! The bad guys all get their just desserts, and then Riggs, who invites himself over for Christmas dinner, presumably gets some dessert too! Ha ha! I give Lethal Weapon two and a half dashboard grenades!


  1. I'm a year or two too young for Lethal Weapon to have been my film. But I've watched it again in the last 6 months. I agree with you about the murky plot mechanics. It's slick and well done. I don't know. I think I have some blasphemy here. I prefer Running Scared! (Or its ancestor - Bustin') Anyway, LW has a good cast - Mitchell "Dark Shadows" Ryan, Tom "Halloween 3" Atkins, and Gary "Quigley" Busy

    1. I like Running Scared quite a bit, but despite its surface similarities, it's always struck me as a very different type of picture! I guess the Chicago setting makes it less Hollywood! If forced to choose between them, I might just join you in your preference for it over Lethal Weapon!