“When I was 19, I did a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out. It was a rifle shot in high wind. Maybe eight or even ten guys in the world could have made that shot. It’s the only thing I was ever good at. Well, see ya tomorrow.”
Mismatched L.A. cops have to figure out how to work together to take down dangerous drug smugglers who have some personal connections to the officers before they get too old for this shit.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Shane Black
Why is it these 1980s action franchises about police officers in California kick off their stories at Christmas time? You’ve got this massive drug smuggling ring coming to Los Angeles in late December 1987. A year later, Hans Gruber attacks Nakatomi Plaza during a Christmas party. Is the lack of a white Christmas in Los Angeles causing a series of holiday crime waves?
Also, someone somewhere needs to do a comic book What If? story where Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh responded to Nakatomi Tower instead of Carl Winslow and get in on the action to help JOHN MCCLANE take down Gruber and his band of merry psychopaths. The rights issues can’t be that difficult to nail down for a comic book and I imagine it would produce a fun miniseries where Murtaugh says, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” while Riggs and McClane exclaim enthusiastically, “yippee kai yay, mother fucker!”
A guy can dream, can’t he?
LETHAL WEAPON, much like Die Hard, is a franchise that is built on some over-the-top action with a basis in honest-to-God villainy that could only come out of the 1980s. Drug-runners are trying to flood the streets of Los Angeles with heroin. And they likely would have gotten away with it, too, because the world is a terrible place, if not for the unfortunate coincidence that the drugs caught the attention of Sgt. Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). And even more unfortunate for The General (Mitchell Ryan) and his right-hand man Joshua (Gary Busey) that Murtaugh was just assigned a new partner.
Enter Martin Riggs. Ex-Special Forces and a great cop who is battling some pretty severe depression after the death of his wife in a car accident. No one thinks that Riggs is OK. The LAPD shrink tells his captain that he’s suicidal, which we know is true – or at least close to the mark – because of how he cradles his service revolver to his head or how he takes a potential jumper for a big jump from the top of a building as a means of saving him. Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a little bit nuts. But he’s sustained a pretty severe emotional trauma, so it’s understandable.
Not that I think the LAPD would have ever let a guy like Riggs continue to serve as a detective with that kind of record, but it’s an action movie from the 1980s, so I suspend my disbelief. Instead of forcing him to seek help, they put him with a bland-but-respected cop to try and settle him down. It makes perfect sense in action movie world.
Poor Murtaugh celebrates his 50th birthday, he’s got a loving, happy family life. He’s respected at his job and then he gets saddled with the nut job as a partner and – BAM! – everything blows up. Literally. His house takes a pounding from Joshua. His daughter gets kidnapped. Another house they’re about to investigate gets blown up. Bullets are flying everywhere they go and even cars are getting torn to bits.
And with all the explosions and shooting, the climactic scene where our heroes finally take down the bad guys takes place in maybe the worst-looking fistfight ever committed to film between Riggs and Joshua on Murtaugh’s front lawn. It’s not a private encounter. It looks like the entirety of the Los Angeles Police Department arrives on scene as Riggs and Joshua are duking it out. And Murtaugh just calmly tells them that “this is Riggs’ collar” and the rest of the cops need to stand down.
What could Joshua possibly think was going to happen to allow this to end positively for him? Even if he manages to kill Riggs – who has pretty well established that he’s unkillable at this point in the movie – he’s got dozens of cops who probably wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him repeatedly, if not for killing a fellow officer than for the drug running or any of the other deaths he’s caused.
Outside of the somewhat wonky final fight scene – which ends with both Riggs and Murtaugh shooting Joshua, by the way – LETHAL WEAPON is just a fun action movie from a decade where fun action movies was the norm.