Like something we only see in the movies, 'Lethal Weapon' is literally a Hollywood fairy tale come true, a moment when the elements and stars perfectly align to produce magic. The backstory is that type where all the right ingredients come together at just the right time. If any one of them were to fail, the movie would not likely be the classic we remember today. Wildly considered the best and most memorable of the "buddy cop" subgenre, the pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is absolutely brilliant, and Richard Donner's direction is flawless at delivering the excitement along with the drama. And like any excellently well-made movie, the whole thing starts with the script.
Fresh out of UCLA, aspiring actor Shane Black (who was later given the opportunity to co-star with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Predator') was struggling to break into the movie industry. Hoping to make some extra income, he began writing and was fortunate enough to sell the screenplay that eventually became 'Lethal Weapon.' Despite using a conventional storyline — two men who under normal circumstance can't tolerate one another and are brought together to solve a crime — Black sheds a new light to the buddy formula by refocusing attention on an aspect commonly viewed as an arbitrary plot device. The story is driven and advances from the drama, rather than explosive action or cracking the case.
Indeed, the first act is entirely dedicated to the personal lives of the main protagonists — glimpses into their vastly different lifestyles and unique work behavior that transforms the characters into believable people. Detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is celebrating his 50th birthday and looking forward to his retirement, which soon evolves into a memorable running gag throughout the franchise. He is the voice of reason and experience, preferring by-the-book procedures in dealing with criminals, and loves his family above all else. Glover is terrific in the role, too. After his amazing portrayal in 'The Color Purple,' the actor reveals his comedic side here, while maintaining an air of plausibility.
As Murtaugh, his family-centric ideals function as a sharp contrast to his new partner's psychotic, ill-natured tactics. Mel Gibson delivers one of his most enduring performances as Martin Riggs, acting the mentally unstable detective convincingly long before he turned out unbalanced in real life. The loss of his wife not only explains his suicidal tendencies, but also allows for a sympathetic, flesh and blood human being to come through on screen. Gibson and Glover play off of each other with magnificent rhythm, squabbling back and forth as they slowly overcome their differences. And while Richard Donner floors the movie at breakneck speed, the evolution of the two leads' friendship is ultimately the real driving force behind this 80s action-comedy classic, bringing moviegoers back for more. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Lethal Weapon 2
With the two main characters, Riggs and Murtaugh, fully established thanks to the success of the first movie, director Richard Donner opens the sequel with a wild car-chase sequence that throws viewers right into the middle of the action. Most are already familiar with the ways the two polar opposites work together — one is a reckless maniac who really hates bad guys, while the other is cautious-driven and protective of his wife's new station wagon. Comedy ensues as the two bicker over driving styles and privileges. The action is relentless as they chase after two high-class vehicles with men speaking in a strange language and wreaking havoc on the streets of LA. It's a great start to a very fun follow-up.
Since filmmakers introduced a new angle to the buddy cop formula by expanding a simple plot device, fans understandably expect something fresh rather than a complete rehash of 'Lethal Weapon.' In comes Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), an annoying loudmouth under the protection of our two heroes who weasels his way into the sequel and actually enlivens the place with his grating behavior. In many ways, Pesci pulls off a cinematic miracle by turning an exasperating character into a lovable, even somewhat memorable, droll, a silly clown who keeps excellent pace with Gibson and Glover's wonderfully amusing camaraderie.
Working from a story by Shane Black and Warren Murphy, screenwriter Jeffrey Boam balances the humor with a darkly serious plotline involving drugs, gold coins, and Riggs's past. The two wisecracking detectives are confronted by criminals who are literally above the law. A small group of South African Consulate members, led by a conniving Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and guarded by the sinister Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor), hide behind diplomatic immunity to launder billions in drug money. It's never fully understood why these men need to do any of this, but it provides a reason for the action, a romantic interest in the beautiful Patsy Kensit as Rika, and gives Murtaugh a great, often-quoted line in the last moments of the movie.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of 'Lethal Weapon 2' is the plot being informed by the political concerns of its time. The baddies of this action sequel are more than two-bit criminals trying to smuggle money back to their own country. They are advocators of Apartheid — true scum of the Earth (according to the movie). This allows the filmmakers to participate in the chant to free South Africa and Nelson Mandela, showing that Americans clearly support the end of racial segregation and that major Hollywood productions can still entertain while being conscious of world events. We're also treated to an utterly hilarious segment with Murtaugh and Getz inside the consulate building, making this a fun and exciting follow-up to the film that turned the buddy cop formula into a major box-office draw. (Movie Rating: 4/5)
Lethal Weapon 3
L.A. cops Riggs and Murtaugh are at it again im this third outing, leaving a trail of destruction while pursuing the sort of proficient criminals that only exist in movies. And as is customary to the buddy formula, so long as the heroes prevail in bringing the bad guys to justice — usually meaning death greeted by a cheesy one-liner — all is forgiven. Well, maybe that's not entirely accurate, as in this second sequel we see the two detectives reprimanded after unwittingly detonating a bomb inside a government building. While working uniformed duty, they stumble upon a botched bank robbery that ties into the rest of the movie's storyline.
But as is often the case in these genre flicks, the thrilling car chase is far from a fortuitous opportunity to regain their detective badges. A brief investigation uncovers the would-be burglars are part of a larger racket involving armor-piercing bullets and a former LAPD lieutenant turned arms dealer (Stuart Wilson), and this is where we hit a hiccup in the 'Lethal Weapon' series. The previous two movies feature some really evil and crooked foils for our heroes — believable baddies that offer serious mortal danger. Even their names, like Mr. Joshua and Arjen, sound menacing. But there's nothing threatening about a name like Jack Travis, no matter how slick his suit and hair is. Furthermore, burying a man alive in cement is just a desperate attempt to shock and impress, and it fails.
Ultimately, the character seems more like part of a background subplot — solely there to keep the narrative moving and to give other aspects of the story a reason to exist. Eventually, Riggs and Murtaugh are forced to work with Internal Affairs, opening doors to a passionate romance with Lorna (Rene Russo), which then leads to a funny competition over the best battle scars. In fact, the tough-as-nails Lorna turns out to be the perfect, martial-arts girlfriend Riggs needs in his uncivilized, frenzied universe ('The Three Stooges' tends to have that sort of effect on certain people, myself weirdly being one of them; that, and 'The Little Rascals'). Meanwhile, Murtaugh grapples with killing his son's gang-banging friend in a shootout. This, and with six days to go before retirement, which we all know will never happen.
There's something mechanical about 'Lethal Weapon 3,' like everyone involved including director Richard Donner is simply going through a routine, following a very familiar formula. Open with a big explosion; followed by a petty crime which leads to a larger conspiracy. Bad guy is super bad (he's the reason why illegal guns are in the hands of kids?). Riggs is conflicted by love, and Murtaugh is confronted with family issues. Riggs gets really angry and bad guy dies. Roll end credits; cut, print and . . . that's a wrap. The only true spark in this dark tunnel is Joe Pesci returning as comic relief Leo Getz, which was never in the original script. But that's not saying much, since part of the humor comes from him being so obnoxious. (Movie Rating: 2.5/5)
Lethal Weapon 4
In the fourth and presumably final installment of the popular action franchise, filmmakers somewhat redeem themselves of previous injuries (referring to the last chapter). As if aware the third movie was showing signs of settling into a clear-cut formula, part four is, in many ways, a parody of the series. It uses its own conventions and running gags to create an amusing, tongue-in-cheek atmosphere, while offering something fresh to the mix. The opening with the flame-throwing lunatic and a naked Murtaugh squawking like a bird sets this precise tone — a silly jab to the ways the first three films begin. Granted, the rest of the plot is still an exercise of the genre, but everyone involved is having fun with the material and steer clear of having the drama get the better of them.
Although 'Lethal Weapon 4' features a family theme as the common thread holding the narrative together, it never plummets into anything deeply serious. Unless, of course, you count an odd, yet sweetly intimate conversation between Riggs and Leo towards the end, but even that carries a good sense of humor. The talk concerns Lorna's pregnancy and Riggs's reluctance to marriage. This minor subplot works decently well because the once psychotic cop no one wanted to work with is now made to face parenthood. He's also forced to confront an unexpected enemy: age. It is one aspect of the plot I particularly enjoyed as the two best friends can now say in unison, "I'm too old for this shit!"
At the same time, Murtaugh acts the worried father about Rianne (Traci Wolfe) being a single mother. There are a couple jokes thrown around about being a grandfather, which is to be expected considering the character's arc on age and retirement. But the real comedy comes from unknowingly meeting his son-in-law, the brown-nosing Lee Butters (Chris Rock) — a name that's funny for the wrong reasons thanks to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The theme on family bond is made more apparent when Murtaugh decides to shelter a family of Chinese immigrants after being smuggled on a cargo vessel as slave labor. If there is any political messaging in all of this — as in the previous two sequels — it's fairly well hidden amongst all the graphic violence and ridiculously over-the-top action.
What ultimately saves this buddy-cop flick is the most dangerous villain Riggs and Murtaugh have ever encountered — a true lethal weapon dressed like some kind of meditative kung fu master. As the Triad member Wah Sing Ku, a fearsome individual that can kill with one hand, this was Western audiences' introduction to the Chinese martial arts superstar Jet Li. We've seen bad guys cause significant damage to Murtaugh's house before — another running joke — but this guy is so bad that he'll set fire to the place with two pregnant women inside. Li's calm and collected attitude, with a face that looks like he's planning the quickest and easiest way to kill, is what makes his character so formidable and terrifying. His skill and presence makes 'Lethal Weapon 4' an entertaining watch and a respectable finale to a celebrated action franchise. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video goes 'Lethal Weapon' in this five-disc Blu-ray boxset. The first four are Region Free, BD50 discs and housed together on individual panels that flip over inside a slightly larger than normal blue keepcase. These are also the theatrical cuts of each film. The fifth disc is a collection of new bonus material made special for this release and comes on a Region Free, BD25 disc. The package arrives with a shiny, sturdy cardboard slipcover. At startup, they each go straight to a main menu still and corny 80s-saxophone music playing in the background.
As promised, Warner delivers a fully remastered 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1) of 'Lethal Weapon,' which easily surpasses two previous high-def efforts. Contrast is a clear improvement with deeper, fuller blacks, giving the picture nice depth and pop. Although the transfer still shows many soft scenes throughout, clarity and definition remains strong and stable for most of the presentation. Fine lines are well detailed, and textures in clothing and facial complexions are plainly visible. Colors display the greatest benefit with vividly bright primaries and full-bodied secondary hues. The image comes with a thin layer of grain, providing it with a beautiful cinematic quality. Aside from falling victim to the latest teal & orange color timing phase, Donner's buddy action flick looks better than ever on Blu-ray. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Lethal Weapon 2
Like its predecessor, this 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1) of 'Lethal Weapon 2' is an improvement to the first HD release. Although remastered, meaning no more aliasing, minor noise, or slight ringing, the transfer still has a few soft spots and a couple hazy moments, which ought to be expected unless the studio performs a full-blown restoration of the original elements (but that's another matter). In general, the picture looks clean with good resolution and clarity. Strong contrast levels and deep blacks give the image a great cinematic appeal, while details in the shadows remain plainly visible during low-lit interiors. Colors are bold and cleanly rendered without looking overly saturated, making this a satisfying presentation. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
Lethal Weapon 3
Hitting Blu-ray for the first time, the second sequel in the series continues the excitement with another great looking VC-1 transfer (2.40:1). The picture comes with terrific clarity and resolution, revealing the smallest, little detail in the background as well in the foreground. Definition is a vast improvement with every gray hair, wrinkle and pore clearly visible in the actors. Contrast is nicely balanced and comfortably bright with many deep, rich blacks throughout, giving the image a lovely cinematic quality fans will really appreciate. Shadow details are also perceptible during interiors with poor lighting and at night. Colors are bold and energetic, particularly in the primaries. In the end, 'Lethal Weapon 3' has never looked better than it does on Blu-ray. (Video Rating: 4/5)
Lethal Weapon 4
Without a doubt, the final entry in the series arrives with the best video presentation, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise being the last — meaning freshest — of the bunch. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the VC-1 encode is nicely detailed with clear, distinct lines and terrific clarity. Fine textures in clothing and the faces of actors — Gibson and Glover are really showing their age — are highly revealing, and visibility of background info remains strong during low-lit interiors. The picture also boasts pitch-perfect contrast and deep, rich black levels, giving the high-def transfer an appreciable film-like appearance. Colors, especially reds and greens, are bold and vibrant, making this a vast improvement to previous releases. (Video Rating: 4/5)
Like the video, Warner seems to have gone out of their way to also remaster the audio rather than simply upgrade the old Blu-ray's legacy track to this terrific DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The front soundstage feels expansive and spacious with many splendidly convincing off-screen directional cues. Imaging, on the whole, is engaging and widespread, nicely drawing viewers into the story. Dynamic range is surprisingly extensive and far-reaching, delivering spot-on clarity and detail to all the unimportant background activity as well as sudden outbursts of action. Low-frequency effects are deep and accurately effective, providing a great deal of depth to gunshots and explosions. Amidst all of this, dialogue remains well-prioritized and intelligible, making this lossless mix a great and highly enjoyable listen. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Lethal Weapon 2
'Lethal Weapon 2' also arrives with improved audio quality, displaying a wider and warmer presentation than its predecessor. Movement between the front three channels is fluid and very well-balanced, while vocals maintain great clarity and intelligibility. Discrete effects are heard off-screen convincingly with excellent details in the mid-range, giving action sequences great fidelity and definition. The low end is surprisingly healthy and responsive as well. Once in a while, the rears provide a few subtle atmospherics, which nicely expand the soundfield. The musical score reaps most of the benefits by consistently bleeding into the background, keeping viewers engaged on the 'Lethal' excitement. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
Lethal Weapon 3
As with the previous two movies, part three arrives with an attractive and enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack where the music shows the most benefit. Featuring the talents of the legendary Eric Clapton, the score spreads evenly across the soundstage with warmth and clear fidelity. Dynamic range is clean and stable with terrific clarity in the action, while low frequency effects add power and heft to gunshots and explosions. Atmospherics and ambient noises are very mild, playing a low-key role in providing a bit of depth to the design. The center channel delivers strong dialogue reproduction, so fans never miss any of the great humor and silly one-liners. This is a fun and entertaining lossless mix action buffs are sure to enjoy. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
Lethal Weapon 4
The fourth 'Lethal Weapon' installment comes out guns blazing in this DTS-HD MA track, showing the most activity of the entire series. The rears are put to better use in enhancing the soundfield as cars and debris keep whizzing by. A few ambient effects suddenly appear on occasion, but back speakers seem mostly reserved for immersing viewers into the action. The music also takes advantage of the space, bleeding into the background and keeping the listener engaged. Imaging feels wide and welcoming with strong channel separation and good, well-prioritized vocals. Dynamic range is also sharp and expansive, maintaining great clarity amid the pandemonium, and a healthy low end gives every punch and explosion a good deal of power and oomph. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
Most of the special features are ported over from previous releases, including the high-def releases of 2006. It's decent stuff, but nothing wholly exciting either.
Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon 3
Lethal Weapon 4
Over the years, since the first movie hit theaters in 1987, the 'Lethal Weapon' series has become an iconic buddy-cop franchise which sparked a successful film trend that continues to this day. Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, played brilliantly by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, are a beloved pair of heroes, made memorable by their camaraderie and friendship. With Richard Donner in the director's chair, the movies are full of action and excitement, balanced with a good sense of humor and believable characters. This Blu-ray collection set from Warner Home Video shows all four films with excellent audio and great video presentations. While the individual discs are light on supplements, most of which were ported over from previous releases, the fifth disc makes the overall high-def package a must-own for devoted fans and recommended for anyone else contemplating the purchase.