Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon. Silver Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I get the idea that the original Lethal Weapon isn’t as popular as 3 and 4. I’m not familiar enough with the franchise to know why.

Certainly, the most important part of a buddy-cop movie is the character dynamics, making the plot a canvas upon which to apply banter. Which also makes it difficult to know what to expect from this movie, apart from how it seems to have done well.

After watching the movie:

Sgt. Roger Murtaugh has been on the LAPD force for 30 years, and has a stable family life. Sgt. Martin Riggs has been suicidal and excessively aggressive with suspects since his wife died two years ago. When the Narcotics beat gets Riggs transferred to Homicide for being a loose cannon nobody wanted to work with, Murtaugh gets stuck with him, throwing his orderly life into chaos. Murtaugh’s been working on the case of a prostitute flung off a balcony, an apparent suicide put on the homicide patrol because the autopsy report showed she was also poisoned. At it happens, the woman was the daughter of Murtaugh’s old war buddy who tried to contact him the day before.  While the case seems solved when a fact-finding visit to the woman’s pimp ends with a drug lab busted and the pimp dead in a shootout, Riggs finds a flaw in the apparent narrative that sends them on a trail leading to the conclusion that she was killed for her connection to her father, who was about to blow the whistle on a narcotics ring run by former Vietnam special forces operatives, who now have Murtaugh and Riggs in their sights for knowing too much.

I’m a little surprised that a movie involving Vietnam snipers, prostitution, narcotics, suicide, and torture ends up feeling like a harmless piece of action fluff. The omnipresent drugs just come off as “it’s a crime story in the 80s, of course it’s hard drugs”. Narcotics are the same generic evil here that earlier decades would label as “communists” and later decades would label as “terrorists”.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the adult themes were much less played out at the time, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

Riggs being suicidal is dramatically interesting early on, but as Murtaugh starts to trust him, everything that made Riggs interesting aside from being played by Mel Gibson melts away. As Murtaugh gets more desperate, the only practical differences between Riggs and Murtaugh end up being “Riggs is a better marksman, Murtaugh’s family is a liability”. Buddy cop movies usually run on the chalk and cheese personalities clashing until they realize how they complement each other, but what conflict there is between Riggs and Murtaugh disappears very quickly.

The plot being forgettable is not a major issue, since as I said, the success of a buddy cop movie is the character dynamics. However, while they spend more time as friends than butting heads and that’s not what I expected, I can concede that the friendship is probably something I’d watch more of. That’s not to say it’s as much fun as butting heads, so the last element the movie would stand on is the action. And in this, it delivers. Actually, it’s one of those movies where most action sequences run a little long, and there are more of them than I expected, but they certainly are exciting and spectacular. So the pacing was a little off for me, but the action was good. It all adds up to a movie that was not as compelling as I hoped, but definitely possessing a potential for greatness.

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