Monday, May 28, 2012

Movie Review: "Lethal Weapon 2" by David Pretty

What do you do when all the best cinema villains have already been beaten into submission?  With action films already a-swarm with Commies and Nazis, the scribes of Lethal Weapon 2 decided to solve this conundrum by ripping a page out of the headlines.

Unfortunately, that was over twenty years ago.

In the mid-Eighties South Africa was still employing its ass-backward program of apartheid which attempted to legitimize racial segregation and curtail the rights of the black population under white minority rule.  Needless to say, this policy was pretty unpopular just about everywhere.  "Conscience rockers" like Little Steven, U2 and Peter Gabriel seized on the hot button issue and used the medium of music to cast a glaring spotlight on this blatantly antiquated doctrine.

By 1989 Lethal Weapon 2 could have received a flag for "piling on" but the results were refreshingly original and fundamentally distasteful.  It was so high-profile, in fact, that F. W. de Klerk started the process of ending apartheid only a year after the picture was released.  Indeed, there's precious little here that South Africa would ever want to include in a tourism brochure.

Although the villainy level has clearly been jacked up for dramatic effect, Joss Ackland as Arjen Rudd still makes for a cold-fish / ripe bastard of the first order.  He's also one of the first action movie creeps to hide behind the pansy-assed "You can't hurt me! I have DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY!" defense.

I'm sorry, but the first time this douchebag drops that particular bon mot, you'll want to leap through the screen and push your thumbs into his orbital sockets.  He's also surrounded by a veritable Rouge's Gallery of scum-baggery, notably Derrick O'Connor's as the uber-slimy Pieter Vorstedt, who's very presence will have you counting the seconds until he's exterminated.

Our two heroes Riggs and Murtaugh are more than up for the challenge.  The two have settled into a pitch-perfect alliance and their blossoming man-love is downright palpable.  Riggs isn't quite as proactively suicidal here but he's no less reckless.  He gets a few choice scenes with Roger's wife Trish (Darlene Love) which delves into his back story and adds to the character's appeal.

Danny Glover also gets more opportunities to shine, serving up one-liners like "Nailed 'em both!" with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  He manages to deliver most of his dialogue with improvisation ease and his banter with Gibson is as natural as a squabbling married couple.

There are some genuine moments of humor here as well, such as the immortal "death by toilet" sequence.  When Murtaugh, sans pants, finds himself astride Riggs in a bathtub while an airborne commode drives a stake through the heart of a certain beleaguered station wagon, any viewer not made of stone will find themselves giggling uncontrollably.

And who can forget Joe Pesci's star-making turn as "Whatever You Want" Leo Getz?  When it came to this amusing (but ultimately annoying) little fuck, less was more, which is something future entries in the series regrettably ignored.  Also of note is British actress Patsy Kensit, who makes for a distracting bit of crumpet until she's turned into the screenplay's pariah.  Finally, hardcore film buffs will have fun spotting former Colonial Marines Jenette Goldstein and Mark Rolston as both cop and robber respectively.

The action really gets dialed up to "11" here.  There are more car chases and guns-a-blazin' fireworks in the first eight minutes than there was in the entire run time of its predecessor.  Again, contemporary audiences might consider the villain's origins obscure, the tropes a bit derivative and the action sequences relatively mundane but, honestly, this is one of the first buddy cop flicks where our heroes take off the badges because "NOW IT'S PERSONAL".

Granted, this is also one of the first action films to start straining credibility.  Conveniently tying Vorsted into Martin's past is pretty far-fetched and our two protagonists certainly would have been locked indefinitely after the insane orgy of mayhem they unleash at the film's climax.

Regardless, Lethal Weapon 2 is a fun thrill ride that, in some ways, is even more satisfying than its predecessor.  Check your brain at the door, grab some beer and pretzels and get ready for another helping of "Action Movie Chicken Soup for the Soul".

   Tilt: up.

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