Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lethal Weapon: Boring

Movie Review: Lethal Weapon

Director: Richard Donner

Reviewed: 7 November 2013

jamesintexas rating--**

Mean-spirited, nonsensical, and dumb are just a few of the adjectives that spring into mind when thinking about Lethal Weapon, a canonized 1980's action thriller that I never saw until last week. In a strange set of circumstances, I knew the players, having seen all the subsequent sequels, but I never saw the original. Now I have, and I really could not have been more disappointed.

Detective Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a volatile, grieving police officer known for risking his life recklessly, and Detective Murtagh is the grizzled, aging family man who has just turned fifty. Neither man is excited to be paired up together, but in order to solve the case of a suicide, they join forces. The movie soaks itself in these two characters, contrasting Riggs' alcohol-fueled despair and moments of darkness with Murtagh's exasperated balancing of family politics and his work on his boat. The shadowy crime begins promising but never picks up steam; they follow leads that lead quite easily to other leads, and the plot never demands they (or the audience) works too hard. At one point, Murtagh is in the middle of an alleyway with the baddies barreling towards him in a car because...well, because that is just more convenient than having him find them.

The film feels very eighties from its jazzy score to its love of helicopter tracking shots, and it also feels very clunky and distracting in its action. The bad guys led by Gary Busey disappear for large chunks of the film, so there is never a balance between the warring sides, something that a film of the same time period, Die Hard, did so well with Alan Rickman. The cursing is fine (maybe shocking for its time period), and there are a few sequences that are fun to watch, but the final fight makes no sense. The stakes are nonexistent.

Mel Gibson is an unqualified star in this film, and I loved his charismatic performance. He is tough, funny, wild-eyed and haunted. Danny Glover seems to be having fun with his role too, playing a decent man with an overflowing plate of obligations, screaming at Riggs, his children, the bad guys. There is an undeniable charisma between Gibson and Glover, hence the franchise.

The film knows it has something special with its two leads and works best in those quieter moments. An action film need not be dumb, and unfortunately, Lethal Weapon never asks much of its audience or its characters. The fight at the end in the rain is cool to look at though but ultimately meaningless.

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