Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lethal Weapon 4 Movie Review

First published on Uwire in Summer 1998.
Republished here with minor editorial adjustments, but nothing that affects content.

Just when you thought sequels couldn’t go any further, they did. The fourth installment in the Lethal Weapon series opens with a bang of an action sequence in which detectives Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) gun down a man wearing an armored suit and carrying a flame-thrower.

The rest of the film follows with many more spectacular action sequences including a freeway car chase which outdoes nearly any car chase I’ve seen. Many of the sequences and the beautifully choreographed fight scenes are made possible by Jet Li, an Asian martial arts star making his American film debut. Li provides Riggs with the most difficult enemy of the series.

While the spectacle to the eyes in this film is wondrous, the dialogue and situations can be excruciating. What was great about the original Lethal Weapon (wonderful chemistry between Glover and Gibson, raw energy action, the lunacy of Martin Riggs) are lost in Lethal Weapon 4. Ten years ago, Mel Gibson was young and Danny Glover was getting older. This provided for wonderful dialogue and situations between the two. Now Gibson is getting old and Glover is still getting older. Watching the two of them together makes me wonder when it will become “Geriatric Weapon.” Gibson can’t move like he used to, and the two can’t exchange witty quips about one another like they did in the days of yore.

The supporting characters don’t offer much help. Joe Pesci is along for the ride again as Leo Getz, this time as a private investigator. He isn’t quite as nauseating as he was in the second and third films, but he still says “Okay” about seventy-five times. Rene Russo as Lorna, who provided the female version of Martin Riggs in the third movie, is now pregnant. She provides one fancy fight scene, despite being nine months pregnant at the time. Newcomer Chris Rock, playing officer Lee Butters, Rianne Murtaugh’s husband, offers the funniest lines in the film His rant about cellular phones with Pesci is hysterical.

Where the film severely falters is in its moral message. Riggs and Murtaugh are out to stop the Chinese Triads from moving into Los Angeles and importing foreigners as slave labor. Murtaugh hides a nice Chinese family in his home because he’s doing for them what “no one did for [his] ancestors.” The message of the film seems to be sympathetic toward Asians, however the hidden family makes a stereotyped first impression as they cook up a wonderful smelling Chinese dinner in Murtaugh’s kitchen. Riggs also says “flied lice” when interrogating the local Chinese mob boss.  The film should be either sympathetic to Asian culture or not, but they can’t have it both ways.

The theme apparently woven throughout the film is one of family. Everybody refers to each other as family. Murtaugh is ready to become a grandfather, Riggs a father and husband. Pesci proclaims (in a manufactured heartfelt scene) that Riggs and Murtaugh are his only family. But the main thing missing from this film is any sense of family at all. We see almost none of Murtaugh’s three children and he doesn’t even find out that his daughter is married to a fellow police officer until she is already nine months pregnant. However, his wife, children and partner know. Once again, they can’t have it both ways.

Overall, the action holds your attention throughout the duration of the film and it isn’t really any worse than the third movie. Unfortunately, Gibson and Glover are really too old for this.

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