There an old joke about a pair of seniors who go to see Hamlet. As the pair are walking out of the theatre the woman turns to her husband and asks: "So, what did you think of it?" and the old man replies: "Meh. I've heard it all before!"
Lethal Weapon is the Hamlet of buddy cop movies. It's been ripped off by so many lesser films that watching the original is akin to playing "spot the cliché" for a hundred and ten minutes.
If you have a pen and paper handy, kids, you can play along at home. See how many you can jot down while watching the film's trailer...
- We've got a by-the-book veteran cop / family man who's just days from retirement.
- Suddenly he's partnered up with a young, reckless, borderline-suicidal rogue.
- The veteran cop says "I'm too old for this shit" not once, not twice, but thrice!
- The bad guy is inexplicably albino.
- There's equal parts homophobia and homo-eroticism.
- Al Leong makes an obligatory appearance as a goon.
- The bad guys target the good cop's family.
- Bad puns abound ("What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let's get the flock out of here!").
- Our heroes are summarily tortured and/or worked over by the aforementioned Monsieur Leong.
- The main villain manages an eleventh hour, "Hail Mary" last gasp attack and is collectively shot down by our protagonists.
The gloriously be-mulleted Mel Gibson (who's seems loopier than average in this one) actually has a few scenes of genuine emotional heft. We're in the guy's corner within the first half-hour or so because his BELOVED WIFE died in a CAR CRASH and he CAN'T GO ON LIVING WITHOUT HER. Only THE JOB gives him the will to carry on. Richard Donner might be going for the garbage goal on this one, but it really generates a lot of sympathy for Riggs.
And what the fudge (to borrow a cue from bad prime-time dubbing) happened to Danny Glover anyway? The dude just oozes charisma here and he's a joy to watch. Together the two make for one of the best "odd couple" cop pairings in cinema history.
Also check out the big acting chops on Gary Busey before he went all nuts in real life (Hmmm, maybe there's some sort of Poltergeist-like curse at work here). As the pigment-and-conscience-deficient merc Joshua he's ruthless and easily hate-able but not in a lame, melodramatic "Snidely Whiplash" kinda way.
Once knocked for being "unrealistic" and "wild", the action beats in Lethal Weapon look like The Wire when comparison to video game flotsam like Crank: High Voltage. I know the film is somewhat dated and downright low-gear when compared to the current generation of action films, but bless its modest little heart. It's still a lot of fun to see the cast preserved here in all of their late-Eighties glory.
When you watch it next time, just put the checklist away and indulge in the equivalent of some action movie comfort food.