The first Lethal Weapon came out at the peak of stupid, 80’s action films. Black’s script may have been riddled with cliches like the psychologist who follows the police captain around, warning him about the “loose cannon” in his squad room, or the cop contemplating retirement getting sucked back for a major case, but it also had some good character development and was lucky enough to get Richard Donner to direct. Donner is a director who never stuck to one genre, weaving through horror (The Omen), kids films (The Goonies), action adventure (Superman) and drama (Inside Moves). Donner’s greatest asset to Lethal Weapon was the casting of Mel Gibson, whose career was on the cusp of a major breakthrough. Gibson really grasped the drama and the manic comedy of his character, Martin Riggs, and his interplay with Glover was pitch perfect. With the right mix of action, humor and the unspoken love between the two leads, Lethal Weapon really connected with audiences. It doesn’t matter what the plot was about (Murtaugh and Riggs investigate the death of the daughter of one of Roger’s Vietnam buddies and uncover a heroin ring being supervised by a sadistic Gary Busey), it was those two guys and us believing them that makes the film work.
Lethal Weapon 2 was released in 1989. With Jeffrey Boam now writing, it’s a more balanced movie and a superior one, as well. The jokes work better- Donner knew when to tone it down, such as the tail end of the famous exploding toilet scene- and the fetching Patsy Kinset proved a formidable love interest for Riggs. However, the key addition was Joe Pesci, who was a year removed from his Academy Award winning performance in Goodfellas. As Leo Getz, a crooked CPA under police protection, the great actor fit in perfectly with the shtick and drama of Gibson and Glover. Everything about Lethal Weapon 2 holds up, including the wonderful score from Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn. Additionally, Donner and Boam inserted a political message to the plot about South African businessmen. The scene in which Murtaugh and Leo enter the South African consulate is priceless.
After the massive success of Lethal Weapon 2, a third film was made. There was great anticipation for this movie after the second was well received by audiences. Ugh, it’s a bloated, loud piece of studio crap. Pesci is back, but takes a backseat to the addition of Rene Russo. Donner and company try to out joke and out explode the previous two films and dispose of anything resembling character development. The sole highlight is a funny/romantic scene in which Russo, playing Cole, an internal affairs officer, compares old wounds with Riggs. Russo more than holds her own with the overbearing Gibson. Despite being a creative letdown, Lethal Weapon 3 was a huge hit and a fourth and final film was eventually made.
It wouldn’t be until 1998 when the final Weapon movie was produced. This one beefed up the cast even more, seeing Chris Rock come aboard as a detective sergeant who happens to be the father of Murtaugh’s unborn grandchild. As implausible as it sounds, Murtaugh doesn’t know who the father of his unwed daughter’s child is. Moreover, he doesn’t even know who his daughter has been dating! At the same time, Riggs’ girlfriend, Russo’s Cole, is pregnant with his child and he’s struggling with asking her to marry him. Mixed in with all of this is a plot involving human trafficking. When Riggs and Murtaugh are fishing with their buddy Leo (catching the worst looking fake shark this side of Joe vs. the Volcano), they come upon a Chinese tanker carrying a shipload refugees. After an outrageous gunfight and the ship running ashore, the duo begins their investigation. Their principal adversary is played by Jet Li, portraying a high ranking member of Chinese organized crime.
Things blow up, a car flies off the highway and through a building then back on into Los Angeles traffic, and Riggs has one final martial arts battle, this one against Li’s character. Rock is pretty damn funny; he has a shouting match with Pesci that is the highlight of the film. Pesci has some touching moments and Glover is reliable as ever. Unfortunately, Gibson let’s fly several off-color jokes that may have seemed funny to him, but just come off as racist. Although Lethal Weapon 4 is an improvement over the third installment, that isn’t saying much. In their effort to outdo themselves in explosions and one liners, Donner and company discard real character development in favor of effects.
All four movies look and sound great in Blu-ray. Each individual disc comes with their own special features, most importantly, commentary by Donner and some of the key creative team members. This collection of all four movies also a fifth Blu-ray disc, which includes the humorous featurette, “I’m Too Old For This S**T: Lethal Weapon and the Hollywood Monster It Created.” Fans of the series should be ecstatic about this collection; the rest of the world should just look for number 2.