Eye For Film >> Movies >> Lethal Weapon (1987) Film Review
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Before it became an increasingly-cartoony, although still decent, action series, the Lethal Weapon franchise started off brilliantly. From director Dick ‘Superman’ Donner (who’d helm all four instalments) and screenwriter Shane ‘Predator’ Black (who, tellingly, left after the second), it manages a better balance of emotion, humour and action than the progressively more explosion-orientated follow-ups.
Having had suicidal tendencies ever since the death of his wife, grief-stricken cop Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is paired with older, by-the-book Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who is close to retirement. While, at first, Roger is anxious that Riggs crazy methods will get him killed, a friendship develops as they start working a murder case which isn’t as simple as it first appears.
It’s the substance which makes this first instalment the cream of the Lethal crop. Sure, Uncle Dick carries on the emotional threads in the later movies and there were some excellent scenes peppered throughout, but they are never as personal or important story-wise as here. Riggs breaking his TV in a fit of rage, then later consumed with loss on the brink of shooting himself… it's powerful stuff that we don’t usually see in the genre. While instalments 2 to 4 were enjoyable setpiece-heavy actioners, where the cop-case was front and centre, here it’s our character’s personal journeys that drive the narrative.
And yet, while Donner’s original is undoubtedly the most serious of the four, it remains both fun and humorous. The banter is often contagious, there are some great one-liners (“Let’s do what one shepherd said to the other shepherd, let’s get the flock out of here”) and there’s the biggest mobile phone you’ll see on screen. Of course, there’s also plenty of action. Truthfully, it all feels a bit too much towards the end, but the scenes when Mel’s suicidal copper confronts a sniper and takes a high jump offer plenty of danger and tension.
Best of all, though, is the chemistry-oozing camaraderie our new partners share. On one side you’ve got the black, rule-abiding family man, on the other you’ve got the white loner who defines the terms ‘loose-cannon’. In any other movie, Glover would walk away with it, but truthfully Lethal Weapon is Gibson’s party. All wide-eyed insanity, flaring nostrils and twitching movements, Gibson’s got intensity on tap, balancing internal grief with edgy energy and natural comic timing for the performance of his career.
More serious, but just as funny and full of action, Lethal Weapon is easily the best of the series.Reviewed on: 23 May 2010