Thursday, May 16, 2013


(March 1987, U.S.)

It's taken me just over twenty-five years to realize this, but how many summer blockbuster sequel franchises do you know that originated in the month of March? In fact, how many Spring films often really stay in our memory, unless they happen to be nominated for some serious Oscars many, many months later and perhaps get a theatrical re-release (i.e. CHARIOTS OF FIRE, released March 1981). Just an observation.

Up until the year 1987, the only real tough, badass cops of the big screen I was aware of was Chuck Norris (AN EYE FOR AN EYE, CODE OF SILENCE) and Sylvester Stallone (NIGHTHAWKS, COBRA). DIE HARD's John McClane was still over a year away and Mel Gibson was still only the apolalyptic hero Mad Max to a young moviegoer like myself. So quite frankly, the idea of pairing up Mel Gibson with Danny Glover, whom I only knew from WITNESS and THE COLOR PURPLE (both 1985) seemed just a bit odd. Clearly, these two guys as buddy cops were not intended to be very funny as Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines had been in RUNNING SCARED (1986). But thank goodness trailers don't skimp on the hardcore action it promises, particularly Gibson's character of Martin Riggs running like a maniac down a city street chasing a moving car with machine gun in hand, because that's just enough to get two college roomates into the local multiplex for a Saturday afternoon matinee of blood, guts and violence...directed by SUPERMAN's own Richard Donner, no less.

Fifty year-old L.A.P.D. Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) and suicidal L.A.P.D. Narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs (Gibson) are forced to work together following the murder of a young girl who was the daughter of Murtaugh's old Vietnam war buddy. From the moment they meet, the two of them don't like each other, leaving the door way open for the predictable cliche of them becoming the best of friends. Actually, love and friendship stemming from hatred and irritation makes the relationship all the more interesting, in my opinion. Unlike Norris, Stallone or even Schwarzenegger, Murtaugh and Riggs are men with feelings of love, loyalty and pain. I mentioned above that Riggs is suicidal and that's because he recently lost his wife, whom we can clearly tell he loved dearly just by paying close attention to the agony on his face as he sits alone in his trailer on Christmas Eve pointed a gun at his head and in his mouth. In fact, it was this sequence of great pain that captured the attention of director Franco Zeffirelli when he decided to cast Gibson as Hamlet in his 1990 film. So what keeps Riggs alive day after day amidst such personal sorrow? The job. Riggs loves the job.

To watch and enjoy Shane Black's original script for LETHAL WEAPON is not so much to care about or pay attention to intricate plotting. The enemy is as standard, cliche, textbook (whatever you want to call it) as any other tough cop movie - drug dealers, psychotic hitman, merciless expert in torture, etc. The true fun of this film is the ongoing, back-and-forth, well-paced chemistry and dialogue between our two heros and the dependence for each other, both as partners and as friends, that develops and forges itself in stone (for at least three more films following). And hey, watching Mel Gibson kick some serious ass both with a gun and his fists is nothing to sneeze at, either!

I would point out for your (possible) interest that I once met writer Shane Black (currently the director of IRON MAN 3) at a New York City screenwriting seminar in 1994. He was a man of surprising passion for one who had only written action-adventure films. He acknowledged that fact by stating to myself and others that action-adventure WAS his passion. I can actually recall discussing a particular moment in the recent film THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) with him (something I'll get into much, much later when we reach the letter 'R'); a moment both of us mutually interpreted in the same way. You had to be there to see it, but there was a feeling and a sense of respect and understanding betweeen a complete unknown like myself and someone who had apparently made a real good dent in the business. And so Shane, thanks for writing LETHAL WEAPON and the story for the film that followed next. Thank you for having nothing to do with the unfortunate two sequels that followed after that.

Finally, let me point a very obvious (and obviously intentional!) and major film flub. During one of the action scenes on a California street, a movie theater marquee displays the title of the film THE LOST BOYS. LETHAL WEAPON was released in March 1987 and THE LOST BOYS would not be released until July 1987. However, THE LOST BOYS was being produced by Richard Donner at the time and clearly this was an inside joke of film promotion. Ha, ha, ha!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Martin Riggs: "Hey, look friend, let's just cut the shit. Now we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I'm suicidal, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I'm faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I'm fucked."
Roger Murtaugh: "Guess what?"
Riggs: "What?"
Murtaugh: "I don't want to work with you!"
Riggs: "Hey, don't."
Murtaugh: "Ain't got no choice! Looks like we both been fucked!"
Riggs: "Terrific."
Murtaugh: "God hates me. That's what it is."
Riggs: "Hate him back. It works for me."

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to the Remains of the Day story. Lethal Weapon worked because the characters felt real. That scene with Gibson putting the gun in his mouth was disturbing like nothing else in action pictures. It was a moment of real drama. Rogers home life seemed to be typical for any one, distracted Dad, disruptive kids, bills, it was life. Then you layer the over the top violence on the drama and it goes bang. The lurid death of the girl flying off the top of the Capitol Records building, plus the in your face violence of the drug gang, create a template for action films for the next ten years.