- Movie Rating -

Lethal Weapon (1987)

| March 6, 1987

It’s funny, I just wrote a review of the Burt Reynolds action movie Heat in which the script kept pushing the film’s human touches out of the way in order to batter us with action and now here comes Lethal Weapon, a movie that alternates the action and the humanity with far more confidence and a lot more surprises.

This is a great action movie for those reasons and a whole lot more.  It comes under the direction of Richard Donner, the man who made The Omen and the first (and best) Superman movie.  He knows how to combine the action with the characters so that they don’t step on each other and here he comes up with the buddy team that I think really works.

The movie stars Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh a police detective with an active family life.  He has a wife and a house full of kids including a daughter whose budding sexuality is becoming a concern.  He’s just on the edge of his 50th birthday and everything in his life seems in order until he is assigned a partner, a loose cannon named Martin Riggs played by Mel Gibson.  Riggs is a mess.  His wife is dead, he lives in a trailer on the beach and very often he spends his evenings looking down the barrel of his gun.

In a very short time, Riggs and Murtaugh become involved in a plot to stop a drug cartel and that has them chasing the bad guys all over Southern California and getting into a series of chases and shoot-outs that, in lesser hands, might have been tiresome and ordinary but under Donner’s direction make a lot of logical sense.  As does the plot.  Glover’s old Army buddy has recently suffered the loss of his daughter who, hopped up on the drugs that the bad guys are peddling, jumped out of a 40-story window to her death.  With that information, we already know what is at stake.

But as sobering as that detail is, it doesn’t stop the movie from being a whole lot of fun – it just gives it more motivation to keep going.  There’s a shoot-out in the desert, a jump off a ledge, a gun battle with a helicopter, kidnapping, car chases, and a torture scene with electric shot.  And somewhere in between we have a family dinner, repair Glover’s boat, and have a beer together.  It’s that kind of movie.  There is one scene involving Riggs and a guy about to commit suicide by jumping off a ledge that completely surprised me.  I won’t say a word.

What is special is that this is the kind of movie that keeps things moving.  I complained in my review of Heat that the character stuff kept getting interrupted by boring old shoot-outs and violence.  Here there is a better mixture.  I liked that there is equal time given to both men, to the details of Glover’s family situation and to Gibson’s loneliness and suicidal tendencies.  Movies with this much care are very rare and greatly appreciated.  This is a movie that I really cared about.  The action moves the characters based on motivation; they aren’t perfunctory.  There is always a method to the madness.

If there is one draw-back, it may be the villain.  He’s played in a performance by Gary Busey that I’ve seen a thousand times before.  He’s slick, even-voiced and menacing.  Yet, there is no other dimension.  He’s just a Movie Villian who does Movie Villain Things.  Busey is a good actor.  I wish he had more of a character to play.

That aside, this is a very exciting movie, expertly crafted, evenly paced, beautifully edited and made with a lot of common sense.  That’s very rare and indeed I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Action