LETHAL WEAPON used Los Angeles as a battlefield in 1987, with police-pal competition via Beverly Hills Cop II and Stakeout. They out-grossed it, the first by a lot, the second by a tad, but this outshot them on the sequel range, unloading three. The buddy-cop movie wasn’t new (Freebie And The Bean, anyone?) but ‘Lethal‘s opposites-attract combo of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover (madman-meets-family-man) added fresh juice to the concept, which in due Hollywood course would be beaten to a pulp by imitators. *
RIGGS: “You want me to drive?” MURTAUGH: “No, you’re supposed to be suicidal, remember? I’LL drive.” RIGGS: “Anybody who drives around in this town IS suicidal.”
L.A. narcotics sergeant ‘Martin Riggs’ (Gibson, 30 with a mullet) has almost everyone thinking he’s a psycho because of the insane chances he takes, but he’s really suicidally depressed over the death of his wife. His captain thinks he’s faking for a pension, and teams him with older veteran ‘Roger Murtagh’ (Glover, 40, but playing 50), a family man, who is nervous about Martin’s risk-running, but eventually trusts him enough to let him meet his wife & kids. Further bonding is locked in by their big case, linking a hookers death to a heroin-importing ring run by former C.I.A. mercenaries.
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.” MURTAUGH: “Guess what?” MARTIN: “What?” MURTAUGH: “I don’t want to work with you!”
Shane Black gets credit for the script, but his work on it was heavily rewritten by Jeffrey Boam before director Richard Donner called “Action!”. Action there is, in abundance, along with an ample dose of humor in the bromance interplay between Mel and Danny. There’s genuine charm from truly adorable Traci Wolfe as ‘Rianne’, Murtagh’s teenage daughter who has an immediate crush on Martin (dreamgirl Wolfe, playing 17, was actually 25). Donner’s handling deftly blends jarring violence and gallows humor with the warm family material, and thanks to the charismatic actors it works as an audience-pleaser. It also has dead-serious subplots (suicidal depression, the C.I.A. drug connection) that are well-integrated to the outrageously staged action mayhem. Along with Gibson, Glover and Ms. Wolfe, another casting plus was made with Gary Busey, as the chilling assassin ‘Mr.Joshua’. Trimmed down by 60 pounds, hair peroxided for an Aryan affect, a rejuvenated, lean and mean Gary makes a great ice-cold adversary. “The same albino jackrabbit son of a bitch who did Hunsacker.”
One critic dubbed it “Mad Max meets The Cosby Show“. Made for $15,000,000, in the States it was the year’s 10th biggest hit and ended up grossing $120,200,000 globally. The trio of whelps, all directed by Donner, followed in ’89,’92 and ’98. **
“Have you ever met anybody you didn’t kill?”
Oscar nominated for Best Sound Mixing. Music score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton. With Mitchell Ryan (head baddie), Darlene Love (‘Murtagh’s wife ‘Trish’),Tom Atkins, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Mary Ellen Trainor, Al Leong, Don Gordon and Jackie Swanson (watch that first step). 117 minutes.
* ’87’s other carnage-causing cops who significantly reduced the scumbag element included The Untouchables, Robocop and Extreme Prejudice.
Script flashbanger Shane Black re-tweaked the mismatched partner thing in The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, so he has a lot of cussing and casualties to answer for.
* Gibson on Donner: “Uncle Dick. He’s a great guy, just terrific. Extremely professional. He’s an old veteran and has an understanding of film that is the culmination of years of experience. He’s got his technical stuff down, his vision down. No matter what you say about Dick, it underrates him. He really loves what he’s doing, loves working with actors, and he allows you freedom to explore all kinds of areas. “All right, kid,” he’ll say, and slap you on the back and let you try something, because even he doesn’t know sometimes. He’s just an extremely charming, talented, great fuckin’ guy. I love him.” Richard Donner passed away in 2021, at the age of 91.