Retro Review: The LETHAL WEAPON Franchise

I don’t know why, but the Lethal Weapon movies just popped into my head recently, and I suddenly had the urge to watch them again.

You know the regular cast – Mel Gibson and Danny Glover – who are eventually joined by Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, and Chris Rock. Across the various movies, you also have Jet Li, Stuart Wilson, Joss Ackland, Patsy Kensit, Derrick O’Conner, Jenette Goldstein, Gary Busey, and even Tom Atkins putting in appearances.

Richard Donner directed the entire series, with Shane Black writing the first movie along with Jeffery Boam, who was uncredited. The second was by Black and Boam, but this time Warren Murphy was a third writer.

It was by the third movie that Black left and Boam carried on, this time with Robert Mark Kamen. Here things started to go downhill. The fourth movie was by Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar.


Lethal Weapon

The year is 1987 and we are coming to the end of one of the best decades for action movies, ever. A late entry is Lethal Weapon, starring Gibson and Glover. The tagline is:

“Two cops. Glover carries a weapon…Gibson is one. He’s the only L.A. cop registered as a LETHAL WEAPON.”

Martin Riggs has just lost his wife and is borderline suicidal. He’s teamed up with family man, Roger Murtaugh. It’s the perfect match for a cop buddy movie.

A friend of Murtaugh’s contacts him about his daughter, who’s trapped in a life of drugs and prostitution. Before the guys can reach her, she jumps from an apartment block and dies. The autopsy shows a lethal amount of drugs in her system and points towards murder.

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story, because you know it. There is action, thrills and spills aplenty. What really works in this movie, though, is Gibson and Glover. The chemistry between the two is perfect.

Gibson is unhinged and on the edge, whereas Glover just wants a quieter life. You could not have had a better duo on screen. Black’s writing is perfect, and when combined with Donner’s direction it creates one of the great action movies of all time.

Lethal Weapon 2

The first movie was a smash, taking over £120 million at the box office which was big for an R-rated action movie back in 1989. So, there had to be a sequel. The cast now adds Joe Pesci who won’t, OK, OK, OK, OK, leave.

Two years after the first movie, this sequel opens with a car chase in Murtaugh’s wife’s station wagon. The car they are chasing has a shipment of illegal gold. It turns out that a South African smuggling ring is importing the gold under the leadership of Arjen Rudd (Ackland). He’s doing it as he hides behind “diplomatic immunity”.

There is a great story through this. Ackland is a very good bad guy, as you really hate him. They expand on Riggs and it turns out that one of the bad guys in this movie killed his wife. Uh-oh, this isn’t going to end well for him.

It’s the one where Riggs pulled down the house on the side of the hill. It also has one of the greatest macho comeback lines in action cinema:

Diplomatic immunity.

It’s just been revoked!

Leath Weapon 2 is on par with the first one. It’s an awesome movie. However, on revisiting it, I can see a few moments where Donner’s direction slips. In one of the car chases, the one where the guy gets decapitated by the surfboard, things aren’t very well edited. On the upside, you do get to see Patsy Kensit’s boobs.


OK, I’m being overly picky here, but it loses half a point for those shooting and editing issues. As I said, I’m being picky on what is a hugely enjoyable action flick.

Lethal Weapon 3

This is where things start to go downhill, very fast. Black doesn’t write and it shows.

The movie opens with Riggs and Murtaugh trying to defuse a bomb. You know, standard stuff for two homicide detectives. They screw up, save a cat, but manage to blow up a whole building. Because of this, which I imagine is a weekly occurrence for these two, they are busted down to beat cops.

This is the one with the “cop killer” bullets. It has its moments, but it’s not great. For me, the bad guy isn’t all that memorable. You had Ackland in the last one. In Lethal Weapon 3 the bad guy is Stuart Wilson. He’s a great actor but this part isn’t brilliant.


Murtaugh accidentally shooting one of his son’s friends, and therefore having some huge personal conflict, is well handled but that’s about it. The rest of the movie seems like it is just Pesci saying ‘OK’ over and over and over.

Lethal Weapon 4

The best way to sum this up is “Cash Grab”. There was zero reason to make this movie, apart from the money.

In Lethal Weapon 3 Murtaugh was a week away from retirement. Now, he’s just carrying on working for some reason.

It’s the one where Jet Li is smuggling people into the States in order to get his own family back. You’d think that with Li in it the action would be awesome, but it’s pretty low standard to be honest. The only good bit is when they break into the dentist and all trip out on laughing gas. Oh, and the line:

It’s fried rice, you plick.

Overall, this is a really weak entry. Yes, there’s a bit of emotion from Pesci but, honestly, it felt tacked on. The tagline for this one was:

The Gang’s All Here.

That’s it, it’s just about seeing them all on screen again. Nothing else. Mildly entertaining action and just an excuse to get the guys back together. It really lets the series down, just watch 1 and 2 again and leave the rest.

There is talk about a Lethal Weapon 5 and we all know what it’ll be. It’ll be another nostalgia gig, with the same old jokes and everyone looking very old. Such a shame.


Oh, and I didn’t even go near the TV series, so don’t ask.

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