Should I Watch..? 'Lethal Weapon 3'
What's the big deal?
Lethal Weapon 3 is an action comedy film released in 1992 and is the third instalment in the Lethal Weapon franchise. It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched cops Riggs and Murtaugh, this time pursuing one of their own who is already being tailed by Internal Affairs. The movie also stars Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Stuart Wilson, and is directed once again by long-time series helmer Richard Donner. Despite being the most financially successful film in the series with global earnings over $321 million, it was the first film to be met with a more mixed reception from critics. It would be followed by the final film in the series Lethal Weapon 4 in 1998.
What's it about?
Just a week before his retirement, Roger Murtaugh finds himself tagging along with maverick partner Martin Riggs to a suspected bomb at an office building. Despite knowing that the bomb squad are on their way, Riggs decides to have a look at the device himself and reluctantly, Murtaugh joins him. However, their attempts to defuse the bomb themselves don't exactly go to plan and the pair are forced to flee before it explodes. With debris raining down on top of them and the bomb squad, who arrive to see the building go up in flames and collapse on itself, Riggs and Murtaugh are busted down to uniform duty and the next day, find themselves on traffic patrol.
Whilst out on patrol and squabbling with themselves, they notice an armoured vehicle being hijacked. After a typically hectic pursuit, they manage to apprehend one of the drivers who is a known associate of former LAPD officer Jack Travis, now believed to be running an underground arms-smuggling operation in the Los Angeles area. Reinstated as detectives, Riggs and Murtaugh are ordered to work alongside Internal Affairs officer Sergeant Lorna Cole who is already building a case against Travis. But they are not without distractions - Riggs finds himself falling for Cole while Murtaugh is traumatised after shooting a friend of his sons.
Jeffrey Boam & Robert Mark Kamen *
Release Date (UK)
14th August, 1992
Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
It's a good job that the comic partnership of Gibson and Glover is so productive, even after three movies because the plot here is somewhat threadbare. They can still spark off each other really well and their banter is just as enjoyable as it ever was. Pesci's character, hyper-active super-snitch Leo Getz, is just as annoying as he was in Lethal Weapon 2 but Russo makes a fine addition to the cast, balancing between the comedy and the action surprisingly well. She is much more than a simple love interest role, a terrible cliché that really gets overused in action flicks like this.
The film doesn't deviate too much from what went before it - gloriously over-the-top action, explosive set pieces and far more collateral damage than the LAPD are actually allowed to generate. The film is like an old pair of slippers - slightly ragged around the edges and not the best quality but they're comfortable and somehow reassuring. In short, you already know how the film is going to play out because it's a Lethal Weapon movie and basically, they are about as formulaic as you can imagine. The film has all the bombastic action and comedy we've come to expect but don't expect much more.
- The building blown up at the start of the film is the former City Hall in Orlando, Florida which was due to be demolished anyway. Warner Bros. paid for the demolition so they could shoot it for the movie and even got the then-mayor of Orlando Bill Frederick a cameo as the cop who sarcastically says "Bravo!" in the scene.
- The film was so successful that Warner Bros. were going to give new Range Rovers as gifts to Gibson, Donner and producer Joel Silver to a celebratory lunch. However, after Glover, Russo, Pesci and screenwriter Boam were invited, the studio frantically raced around LA trying to find more Range Rovers for the rest of them!
- It is the only film in the series that doesn't mention Riggs' late wife or damages Murtaugh's house in any way. It's also the only Lethal Weapon movie where Pesci dyes his hair blonde.
What's not to like?
It is unlikely that audiences clamouring for this third film in the series were unfamiliar with either Lethal Weapon or Lethal Weapon 2. One must wonder, then, why so much effort was put into making this film feel so much like those films. Lethal Weapon 3 offers audiences nothing they haven't already seen before which is a real shame because without Gibson and Glover's banter, this would devoid of any interest whatsoever. Early Nineties action films were all pretty much the same anyway - a quick look at Die Hard With A Venegeance and it's easy to believe that that film's script was originally intended to be used with these characters instead.
The story is pretty weak compared to previous efforts, especially considering that the case itself is technically halfway-solved by the time Riggs and Murtaugh are added to the mix. Pesci's involvement felt forced and largely unnecessary and I also felt he was far more irritating this time around, which isn't good when you're basically reduced to a comedic stooge. Personally, I also didn't like Riggs' character development - remember how he was a suicidal, grief-driven loose cannon in the earlier movies? Instead, he simply goofs up and follows Russo around like a lovesick puppy. It just didn't feel right somehow.
Should I watch it?
There are plenty of worse action movies but Lethal Weapon 3 is simply too content to stick with its tried-and-tested formula to be a truly memorable effort. Fans of the earlier movies will know exactly what they're getting - a madcap blend of explosive action and comedy tied around a stylish but hollow narrative. Anyone expecting anything different should head for the exits - it won't win any new fans to the franchise and ultimately signals the terminal decline of the series' quality.
Great For: fans of the earlier films, anyone who has never seen any action film in history
Not So Great For: jaded viewers, the LAPD, residents of Los Angeles fearing for their safety
What else should I watch?
"Terminal decline" sounds a little harsh but it's true. Lethal Weapon 3 marks the point when the series becomes more focused on box office returns instead of narrative depth. Lethal Weapon 4 would be the death knell for the franchise, feeling even more tired, bloated and contrived than this third film. The series highlights were undoubtedly the first two movies - Lethal Weapon was a genuine game-changer back in the day, a properly brutal action film that both excites and entertains. Lethal Weapon 2 might not deviate that much but still packs a punch thanks to the chemistry of Gibson & Glover.
These days, there is another franchise specialising in mismatched cops going after the bad guys. Rush Hour sees fast-talking LAPD detective Chris Tucker team up with Jackie Chan's Hong Kong super-cop in a similar vein to the Lethal Weapon movies but with a splash of culture-clash comedy thrown in for good measure. Like Lethal Weapon, the series gets worse as it goes on but offers plenty of thrills and spills for the audience and particular those not used to Chan's hyperactive style of comedic martial arts.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox