Film Review: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Also known as: Lethal 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 7th, 1998 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Channing Gibson, Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Calvin Jung, Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, Richard Riehle, François Chau, Al Leong (uncredited)

Donner/Shuler Productions, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Lethal Weapon reviews. From memory, I thought that the third one was my least favorite but having re-watched them all now, so close together, I’d say that this is the worst.

That being said, I still like Lethal Weapon 4 a lot.

I think that the problem with this one is that we get to check in with characters we’ve grown to love but the Murtaugh-Riggs Family has grown so much that the dynamic between the core characters is kind of watered down and subtracted away from, due to the additions of so many new faces.

This does setup a really sweet ending for the final scene in this, the final film (for now), but the core dynamic worked best when it was just Riggs, Murtaugh and sometimes Getz, when you needed to throw in some comic relief.

Moving past that, I think that this film also suffers from the same thing that the third one did, it lacks the chutzpah of the first two films. Those movies were written by Shane Black, at the top of his game, and even though he is still credited for creating these characters, these last two films don’t have the same girt or energy as their predecessors.

Now Lethal Weapon 4 still boasts some stupendous action sequences. It’s certainly not lacking in that regard, I’m grateful that it still brought the fire and frankly, Richard Donner just knows how to shoot and present action better than most directors.

After analyzing the four films in this series with a sharper eye than I’ve given them, previously, I can see that Donner has a certain style in regards to action. Everything just looks organic and real and it’s edited to maintain a quick, flowing pace but not so quick that it becomes choppy and disorienting like modern action films. In fact, a lot of modern directors should take notes from these pictures.

Speaking of action, I really enjoyed the opening of this film. It’s the second best opener in the series, after Lethal Weapon 2, and it really gets things moving and off to a bang. However, the sequence that immediately follows with the Chinese boat, stifles the momentum.

Additionally, there are too many things that happen within the plot that just seem way too convenient to be real. This was a problem that started in the third film but it’s much more apparent here.

As far as the plot, it’s okay. It’s definitely a bigger scheme on par with the first two movies but it’s not that interesting. I guess it works to shed light on the fact that some Chinese are treated like modern slaves in an effort to buy their way into the United States but it’s presented pretty heavy handedly and also quite cheesily.

There are two saving graces in this film that keep it from sinking too far down in the muck. The first is the great action, which I already mentioned, and the second is the characters. The camaraderie is generally really solid and this movie does generate some real feels, especially towards the end in a scene with Riggs and Getz and then the big finale at the hospital, where two babies are born, expanding the family even more.

In the end, this is a “feel good” movie in how it closes things out for these characters. You kind of hope that you’d get to see them again but for now, this is the conclusion of the series. Granted, the television reboot did fairly well and stayed on TV for three seasons but that version of the characters is different. However, due to the show’s popularity, they have been talking about a Lethal Weapon 5 for the first time in years. So, maybe, just maybe… this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the real Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Release Date: May 11th, 1992 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Robert Mark Kamen
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Stuart Wilson, Delores Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes, 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is where the Lethal Weapon franchise started to fall off a bit but it is still a pretty solid movie and it does keep the film series moving forward. This just isn’t as great as the first two but it is hard to be as good as those films were for a third time. In fact, it’s actually incredible that they captured lightning in a bottle twice.

That being said, this is still one of the greatest buddy cop movies of all-time because anytime Riggs and Murtaugh get together, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be a film with a lot of heart, that’s a lot of fun and full of great action sequences.

And it’s the action sequences that make this one great. They’re all pretty solid here, especially the multiple vehicle chases and the big showdown in the housing development that isn’t yet constructed. While burning wood frames in the shape of houses was probably a good way to keep the budget down, it was a great idea, executed well and it made for a good looking and unique finale.

While this one brings Joe Pesci back into the fold, it adds one more permanent member to the family in Rene Russo’s Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop that starts a romance with Martin Riggs, who has had terrible luck with the previous women in his life.

I think the one thing that makes this film weaker is the villain and the criminal plot. He’s an ex-cop turned property developer that funds his empire by stealing guns from police evidence lockups in order to sell them to street gangs. It’s not very original and it’s pretty topical for the time when this was made. Sure, street gang violence still exists today but it’s not an issue of the magnitude of any of the criminal plots from the three other Lethal Weapon movies. I mean, these guys just took down a South African diplomat.

Anyway, I think this film also loses some steam because it wasn’t written by Shane Black, who penned the first two films. While he may have been busy and Richard Donner may have wanted to give someone else a shot at writing, this film is missing that special touch that Black had in the second half of the ’80s.

Overall, this is still a good outing, it’s just my least favorite of the four.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, James Russo, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.