Should I Watch..? 'Lethal Weapon 4'
What's the big deal?
Lethal Weapon 4 is an action-comedy film released in 1998 and marks the fourth and final entry in the Lethal Weapon series. Once again directed and produced by Richard Donner, the film reunites Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as best buddy cops Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh who this time find themselves tackling a people smuggling ring run by a Triad gang. The film also stars Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock and Jet Li in what was his US debut. Despite being the most expensive film of the four to make, the film made a disappointing $285 million worldwide and received a mixed response from critics. The series would then be put on hiatus before finally being remade as a TV series of the same name in 2016 with Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford replacing Gibson and Glover.
What's it about?
During a typically explosive encounter on the streets of LA, officers Riggs and Murtaugh discover that life is about to change for both men. Riggs' partner Lorna Cole is pregnant and thus, the topic of marriage once again rears its head while Murtaugh is about to be a grandfather as his daughter Rianne is also expecting. Meanwhile, their exasperated Captain Murphy promotes both men to Captain and has them investigated a suspected smuggling ring. Together with former acquaintance turned private eye Leo Getz, the three of them uncover a Chinese family drifting in a small dingy and Murtaugh takes them in for safety.
Unfortunately, this leads them into direct conflict with Triad negotiator Wah Sing Ku who works with his contacts in Chinatown to make life difficult for our mismatched pair. Working alongside eager detective Lee Butters (who is the secret husband of Murtaugh's daughter), the cops follow a trail of destruction and murder throughout Los Angeles. But with both men feeling their age and with much more to lose this time, can they see justice brought to bear one last time?
Wah Sing Ku
Channing Gibson *
Release Date (UK)
18th September, 1998
Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Supporting Actor (Pesci)
What's to like?
The fourth film in any long-running franchise is unlikely to deviate from the obviously successful formula that has got the franchise that far and sure enough, Lethal Weapon 4 sticks firmly to the recipe. By combining excessive and explosive action set pieces with the chemistry between Gibson and Glover and the smooth saxophone soundtrack, the film could almost be interchangeable for any of the other sequels. Only the expanded cast give the game away - Rock works hard as Butters whose attempts to remain on Murtaugh's good side give rise to some gay misunderstandings while Li, sadly underused for my liking, is his usual lightning self and great value as a martial artist of considerable skill.
Otherwise, it's business as usual so if you enjoyed any of the Lethal Weapon films then the chances are, you'll enjoy this as well. There is, however, a sense of the film winking at you as it thunders along. It knows how ridiculous it all is and makes no attempts at trying to be a realistic buddy-cop film so there is a stronger emphasis on comedy this time around than before. Most of this rests on Pesci and Rock's shoulders instead of Gibson and Glover, who still have remarkable chemistry between them. The gravitas of the first Lethal Weapon, which saw Riggs as a suicidal depressive, has long since departed.
- The film also marks the first time Jet Li had ever played a bad guy. At one point, Donner told Li to slow down because he was moving so fast that the cameras couldn't pick him up.
- The script suffered numerous rewrites due to characters being added at the last minute (like Getz) and because the original script was deemed too dark, dealing with neo-Nazis launching an attack on the city. When shooting started, there wasn't even an ending in place!
- The only Lethal Weapon movie where Riggs doesn't smoke, the only film to feature Murtaugh in the final showdown, the only film where Riggs has short hair, the only film without a scene in Murtaugh's bathroom and the only film without a bomb going off.
What's not to like?
When the first Lethal Weapon burst onto the silver screen in 1987, it was different enough to stand out from the crowd. Buddy-cop movies weren't as prolific back then as they are now, the only real competition coming in the form of Beverly Hills Cop. But when the fourth film was released, there was much more competition in the shape of Bad Boys, the similarly-scripted Die Hard With A Vengeance and the hyperactive action thriller Speed. Being released the same year as the much funnier and leaner Rush Hour also did the film no favours and made Lethal Weapon 4 look about as cutting edge as a pair of chopsticks. At times, it feels embarrassingly old-fashioned.
There are other issues as well. Why are Pesci and Rock given more prominence than Gibson and Glover, who are funnier and work better together? Frankly, the film would have worked better without Rock's character at all as he seems to have been thrown in at the last minute with little thought behind the role. Russo, who made such a good impression in Lethal Weapon 3, is reduced to comedic sidekick and barely features in the film at all. The script is dull and largely irrelevant as it merely strings together a series of typically over-the-top action sequences and glamorous violence. But of all the faults with this film, my biggest is the lack of conviction. It feels like a movie made as a result of contractual obligations with nobody really pushing themselves as they did before. It feels tired, unimaginative and despite all the action, boring.
Should I watch it?
Unless you're eager to catch all the movies in the series, Lethal Weapon 4 is a desperate and forgettable excuse for bombastic action and the same old comedic interplay between the leads. It provides nothing that most viewers won't have already seen and is a sad way for the series to bow out.
Great For: undemanding action fans, hardcore fans of the earlier movies, Jet Li's US career
Not So Great For: originality, US-China relations, Shane Black's royalty cheques
What else should I watch?
Rush Hour is probably the closest to this movie and not just because it features that other legendary martial-arts star Jackie Chan. Chris Tucker's motormouth detective is a great foil for Chan's wiley Chinese cop and the pair of them have the same level of chemistry that Glover and Gibson possess, only it feels fresher and more interesting. Like Lethal Weapon though, that franchise would also decline in quality the longer it went on but the debt of gratitude it owes the series is immense. The same can be said for Bad Boys - decent leads in the shape of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith coupled with the hyper-stylish action typical of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer makes the film far more entertaining than it should be.
As I hinted at before, action movies had also moved on by the time of the late Nineties thanks to the likes of Die Hard, Speed and the instant sci-fi classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The next year would see another ground-breaking action franchise begin with the digital mayhem of 1999's The Matrix, pushing things further out of the reach of creaky franchises like Lethal Weapon. It was clear for all to see that the series had gotten too old for this...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox