Lethal Weapon (1986)
Written by Shane Black
Directed by Richard Donner
I was looking over the films that came out in 1989 to find some 30th-anniversary content and saw Lethal Weapon 2 came out this weekend that many years ago. I realized I’d never seen the first Lethal Weapon and decided to sit down and watch this flick finally. I like both gentlemen involved in the making of this picture. Shane Black is a pretty good screenwriter, and I enjoyed both Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Richard Donner is the filmmaker behind The Omen, The Goonies, and one of my all-time favorites Superman the Movie. I am a bit more negative on one of the film’s stars, Mel Gibson for obvious reasons if you have kept up with pop culture for the last twenty years. But I decided to give the picture a shot and see if it made sense there’d be three more movies and television series in this franchise.
LAPD Homicide detective Roger Murtaugh is getting too old for this shit, having just celebrated his 50th birthday by investigating the suicide of a friend he served with’s daughter. Additionally, he takes on a new partner, Martin Riggs. Riggs is a suicidal narcotics officer who lost his wife and hasn’t handled it well. This odd couple discovers that the suicide is part of a more extensive series of crimes perpetrated by a powerful heroin smuggling ring. Once the cartel becomes aware of Briggs and Murtaugh, the two men are marked for death.
You never realize how much contemporary cinema and its tropes have wired our brains for specific expectations. There’s a considerable amount of time before Briggs and Murtaugh meet up, about 20 minutes into the movie. That time is spent establishing who each of these characters are separate from each other, as well as showing us the suicide in the movie’s opening. The film is only one hour and forty minutes but packs a lot in, while not rushing the characters, that is until the third act. This was such a different time when it came to screenwriting and act structure. You notice this when watching a movie like The Nice Guys; the story takes its time to make sure we understand our protagonists and the stakes.
The villains don’t get much development, but honestly, they don’t need it. We know they are evil drug distributors and it’s fine in a movie like this that they remain one-dimensional. There is a little development when it’s revealed that Mr. Joshua, the lead henchmen, was part of Special Forces in Vietnam, creating an experiential link between him and Briggs. The head of the cartel is revealed to be General McAllister, another Vietnam vet. Five characters served in that war in the movie, and it feels like there is some more significant theme being explored on that idea, but it never really comes to fruition.
The cartel becoming aware of the identities of Briggs and Murtaugh comes off very rushed. They find out the LAPD has been notified about their business and then know the two officers who are investigating. The final act of the movie glosses over some details so we can get to the big shoot out and showdown. The part of the film that completely lost me was the bizarre martial arts battle on the lawn of Murtaugh’s house at the end. Mr. Joshua has gone to the Murtaugh residence in one final bid to strike out at the cops but gets ambushed. The LAPD shows up, but Murtaugh holds them off so Briggs and Joshua can roll around in the mud. It’s a bizarre ending that is supposed to symbolize…something?
Overall, Lethal Weapon is very much a product of its time. Suicide attempts are shown on screen and framed in ways I don’t think would play well now. There’s carefree laughter after a bad guy blows up in a car. There’s one small protest about killing the bad guys…until Murtaugh is hit personally and then he’s all for shirking his duties as an LAPD detective. I found the guitar riffs and saxophone on the soundtrack a quaint relic of another time. I don’t think the movie will change your life, but it is a great artifact from the 80s, for better or worse.