Lethal Weapon's template for the buddy-cop action film has been emulated so many times -- including its own cannibalism with three additional Lethal Weapon movies -- that what once was keenly novel has turned into an uninspired cliche:
A cop on the edge; his veteran cop partner focused on retirement; their snarling police captain given to outbursts over their unorthodox methods; and lots of explosions, car chases, and violence.
A quarter-century since Lethal Weapon's release, Warner Bros. thought it appropriate to celebrate the franchise with a just-released five-disc Blu-ray set ($79.98), including all four films and lots of extras.
The key to the first Lethal Weapon's success is a fresh script by a new UCLA graduate named Shane Black, who wanted to explore the Western gunslinger mythos as a cop drama in Los Angeles, and textbook action-film direction by Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman, The Goonies).
But their efforts -- considerable as they are -- would have been in vain without the film's two leads. For all the off-the-set publicity Mel Gibson has created the last few years from his erratic behavior, Lethal Weapon is a welcome reminder that, once upon a time, he was a triple threat in Hollywood: handsome, smart, and talented. Danny Glover, who was a decade younger than his 50-year-old "I'm too old for this … " character, was the steady presence in the film we identified with.
Donner took the "more is always better" approach with Lethal Weapon 2: a bigger budget, more explosions and violence, and a scene-stealing new character named Leo Getz -- a drug cartel accountant-turned government witness -- to change the buddy dynamic of Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover). Joe Pesci plays Leo, in a comically inspired performance.
Perhaps it's inevitable that the films turned sillier as Donner and company cranked them out. Riggs became less of a "lethal weapon" -- a suicidal cop broken by the death of his wife who's no longer suicidal but rather loopy -- and the original film's compelling edge was dulled. Rene Russo, Chris Rock, and Jet Li also joined the cast at various points. Despite these additions, Riggs' friendship with Murtaugh wisely remained the center point of the Lethal Weapon movies.
The Lethal Weapon Collection Blu-ray set features all four Lethal Weapon movies, and a fifth disc featuring new retrospective featurettes. The cast interviews are good for a quick shot of nostalgia, but Donner's commentary through the four films is worth the investment in time.