LETHAL WEAPON (1987)
**/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D
starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins
screenplay by Shane Black
directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989)
**½/**** Image B Sound B Extras D
starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland
screenplay by Jeffrey Boam
directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 3 (1992)
ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras D
starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo
screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Jeffrey Boam (sic) & Robert Mark Kamen
directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 4 (1998)
*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras D
starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo
screenplay by Channing Gibson
directed by Richard Donner
by Walter Chaw It's tough to convey exactly how fresh Lethal Weapon seemed in 1987. The leap that Woody Boyd's girlfriend--half-naked in frilly bloomers--takes off a high-rise in the early going, the character of unstable police sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, before we knew he wasn't acting), even the buddying up of Riggs with "too old for this shit" partner Murtaugh (Danny Glover), were smart and groundbreaking. I must've watched this movie thirty times in those halcyon days when VHS made stuff like this and porn middle-class pursuits to be pursued in private. Lethal Weapon holds for me, still, this gritty, dirty allure: sexy, violent, nihilistic--like the first time a kid truly reads the Old Testament.
In fact, testimony to how big the film was is how exhausted it feels now, with almost twenty-five years of knock-offs and shrines in the rearview taking the lustre off what was once resplendent while bringing into focus the influence of producer Joel Silver on our blockbuster summers. Screened today, Lethal Weapon appears to have, along with the following year's also-Silver-produced Die Hard, planted the seed for the new millennium's "everyman-as-superman" pictures. (Yes, I'm talking about Al Leong.) Indeed, the roots of this year's The Dark Knight Rises begin in the self-loathing, half-crazed Riggs, who splits his time pondering eating a bullet and demonstrating a scary ability to kill people. "It's the only thing I was ever good at," he says. It is, after all, only a half-step away from wearing a bat costume and spending the off hours in a cave. And it holds the same kind of appeal, or did, to a fourteen-year-old version of me, who wanted one day to be romantically misunderstood and to be able to beat the ever-loving shit out of straw bullies in the name of imaginary, dead girlfriends. (I also wanted awesome hair in mullet form.) The appeal of Riggs to moony teenage boys is the same as vampires.
I remember the hubbub around screenwriter Shane Black's phone-number payday for his next script, memorialized in the pages of PREMIERE--which, in hindsight, had as its organizing principle a celebration of blockbuster culture. It was a glossy lamprey with staples through its centrefold. I remember thinking how Black deserved every penny as I marvelled at Lethal Weapon's twists and turns: how Riggs was a former special forces assassin and how Murtaugh was paired with this loose cannon on the eve of retirement. I was surprised when Murtaugh's daughter was kidnapped by arch-villain Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey), the enforcer of a (gasp) heroin kingpin who also used to be a special forces guy. (What's heroin?) And I was absolutely aghast that Riggs could, at midpoint, be captured by the baddies and tortured for a while, not putting it together then that Gibson hopped from martyr role to martyr role on his way to his very own psychological Gahanna. There's an inkling early on, though, when, in a line I think was probably ad-libbed, Riggs expresses his disgust at the possibility that two women were sleeping together. Ah, there's Mel.
The hook is that Riggs is all testicles and Murtaugh has been castrated. Further, it's implied that it's cool to tomcat around but preferable to be tied down to an earth mama (R&B legend Darlene Love, who deserved a lot better) who'll bear your Huxtables, scream when threatened, and be the butt of every ounce of 1950s misogyny layered into these films to distract from their blatant homoeroticism. It's the first shot across the bow before the term "buddy picture" was coded and it fulfilled the late-'80s white-kid dream of being adopted by Bill Cosby, meaning that Lethal Weapon isn't really about race when it's about race. It's about Donner's idea of being a real man, which means worrying about the dolphins and respecting a woman's right to choose. Heroism according to these films is being married, monogamous, and anti-racist despite their sledgehammer racism in, among other things, their treatment of Danny Glover. By the end of the show, Murtaugh is less partner than gibbering, one-man minstrel show whose style of fighting, if this were a video game, is lanky strength and affable gullibility. His final act in the Lethal Weapon quartet, in fact, is a feat of brute underwater power that frees Riggs from beneath a mighty obstacle. It's telling, too, that the most sustained running joke in the series, aside from the "I'm too old for this shit" thing, is our heroes' difficulty counting to three. It's stupid as hell, is what I'm saying, but it gets worse after Shane Black departs the series somewhere during production of the first sequel. I should say, too, that any lingering affection I had for Donner after his Superman--the only thing, by the way, that allowed me to imagine The Goonies was an aberration or something--is dead and buried. The guy's the worst kind of liberal: he's a bona-fide, dyed-in-the-wool, lefty dinosaur douchebag, and, if the commentary tracks on these films are any indication, now well into the third stage of insufferable, shouty, grampsy dotage to boot.
Anyhoo, Murtaugh is too old for this shit and his suicidal partner Riggs is suicidal. In early cuts of the film, there's more evidence that his lack of self-preservation has made him into something of a supercop--a conceit that pays off surprisingly well in 1990's Short Time, where Dabney Coleman plays Riggs. In Lethal Weapon, all that happens is that Murtaugh adopts Riggs and Riggs, out of gratitude, saves Murtaugh's ornamental eldest daughter from the clutches of John Elway's evil brother. By the fourth film, Donner opens with a crack about some maniac in a suit of metal with a giant flamethrower as the spokesperson for the NRA, which strikes me as a pretty twisted statement given that the series set the bar in the United States for the celebration of gun violence in entertainment. (Our heroes wield a piece on the one-sheets for each of the four films.) It is very much like a film made by a child who's just discovered a political conscience to go with his or her moral compass. It's twaddle--and unlike that 12-year-old philosopher, it speaks more to a certain emotional retardation than to evolved thinking. Consider in the fourth film when Murtaugh "adopts" an entire Chinese family he finds on a cargo boat, telling Riggs he did it because he wishes someone had done the same for his family back when they were slaves. There's so much wrong with that, I can't begin to tell you. Consider, too, that the way Murtaugh treats this family--how he knows they've been kidnapped by the sudden absence of Chinese-food smell in the house--is as dismissive and perfunctory as the evil Celestial villains who use them as hostages in some obscure plot. But that's later; in Lethal Weapon, Riggs and Murtaugh go through the motions in the world's most violent episode of "Hunter"--a non-sequential series of familiar events culminating in a mano-a-mano battle on Murtaugh's front lawn, clarifying that this one's about the sanctification of suburbia and, finally, of the successful, loving, black middle-class family. Between that and the guns, the greatest irony of the picture for pinko Donner is that it could easily be a campaign commercial for Reagan. What does it say that I loved it as a boy of fourteen?
Lethal Weapon 2 instantly became the biggest thing to happen in 1989--besides Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, Ghostbusters II, Dead Poets Society, When Harry Met Sally, License to Kill, Do the Right Thing, Uncle Buck, Field of Dreams, Say Anything..., and so on. I spent every second I could at the movies that summer, personal apocalypses notwithstanding. When we talk about the matinee of our moviegoing experience, those years you're most open to film and when film is most likely to weave into your reality, the years between 1987 and 1989 were it for me. I realize watching Lethal Weapon 2 now for maybe the first time in over twenty years that I've confused a lot of the good things I remember about the first film with good stuff that in actuality happened in the second. In the sequel, see, Patsy Kensit became an onanistic totem--all the more so for her professed discomfort with the sex scenes because she and Mel were "both Catholics." Naughty. No matter that Patsy is a quadruple divorcee now and Mel is...well, Mel is a fucking lunatic--at the time, there was something hot about the thought that a Boy Scout and a Brownie were forced to act dirty in big bad Donner's big bad movie. It only helped, too, that her character, Rika, is killed in possibly the most harrowing mainstream murder of a love interest until Maggie Gyllenhaal is nixed in The Dark Knight. I didn't notice with anything other than my scrotum until this time around that Rika is chronically infantilized throughout the course of the picture, so that her sexing and murder actually play a great deal like a "barely legal" porn/snuff flick.
Rika is the attaché of evil South African diplomat Rudd (Joss Ackland), who's in the United States to smuggle stuff, hate black folk, and invoke his diplomatic immunity. Riggs and Murtaugh, taken off the case for a moment to babysit cash launderer Leo Getz (Joe Pesci, getting a nosebleed from the drop of going from Scorsese to Donner), find themselves back on it when Donner's liberal conscience demands that Riggs and Murtaugh start some shit with the evil Afrikaners. This is the one where Murtaugh sits on a booby-trapped toilet--a hint of the indignities he'll suffer as the series progresses, because, you know, it's funny. This is the one where Riggs reveals he can dislocate his shoulder in order to escape a straitjacket (foreshadowing the moment in the film where the villains come up with a reason to try to restrain Riggs with a straitjacket). This is also the one where Murtaugh's learning-disabled daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe), the one the films are always suggesting is maybe boning Riggs on the side, stars in a condom commercial, which becomes a failed running joke when the boys down at the station shower Murtaugh with prophylactics at random intervals. Funny how of all the causes Donner rubs himself against (look for the anti-fur button; it's like the world's lamest Easter egg), safe sex isn't one of them--and right in the heart of the AIDS generation. Best, this is the one where Afrikaners systematically assassinate every quickly-established secondary good guy in the LAPD to get Riggs and Murtaugh appropriately wound-up. It's a bloodbath, honestly, and one that was originally paid off with Riggs's execution in the loading bay of a cargo ship. Once the ending changed, Shane Black bailed. Lethal Weapon 2 has the formula down (it's the template picture in a way the disjointed original is not), and at the end of the day, I wonder if it's not the more influential of the two.
Riggs harasses the baddies at their embassy and then, later, at their house on stilts in the Hollywood hills, running up against chief henchman Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor), who returns the favour by doing Riggs's new girlfriend, Rika, in a bad way. Rika, it bears mentioning, spends her screentime befuddled and as helpless as a little girl, right up until she fucks Riggs, whereupon she turns into a nymphomaniac. She's a male fantasy, in other words--one of the ugly ones; I was reminded more than once of that scene from the same year's Great Balls of Fire where Jerry Lee tells his child bride that she don't move like a virgin. Dragged along and pushed around, Rika squeaks stupidly, flutters attractively, and perishes so that our hero can manufacture outrage at blonde Betty Boop's passing, thus justifying all the sadistic bloodshed to come. There can be no other justification, really, for literally dropping a giant cargo container on Vorstedt when one of Riggs's famously-placed bullets would have done. Her death is interesting, however, in that if these movies are ultimately about the sanctity of family, Donner seems intent on keeping Riggs a vital, virile element outside of, and finally threatening to, the domestic unit for at least another film. It's possible that Donner is demonstrating a little white man's burden with Riggs, casting him as a pasty Mandingo enlisted to protect the black family at the expense of any possibility for his own domesticity. He represents, too, an element of paranoia omnipresent in the Eighties: the feeling that the government is maybe not to be trusted with its arcane rules, questionable history, and propensity for creating monsters like Riggs.
Three years later, Lethal Weapon 3 lands as a violent sitcom featuring a girl-Riggs, Internal Affairs Sgt. Lorna Cole (Rene Russo), as a kind of Quint-with-a-vagina to Riggs's shark expert Hooper. Look to a scene where Lorna and Riggs compare scars as mating ritual, or another where the mother of a dead kid slaps Murtaugh when Murtaugh tries to Brody her at a funeral. Riffing on Jaws--perhaps the quintessential, arguably the first, summer blockbuster--should demonstrate a pleasing self-awareness in a series rapidly long in the tooth, but it mostly demonstrates laziness and a lack of imagination. The film opens with a bomb threat Riggs decides to handle on his own under heavy protest from the increasingly scairt Murtaugh. He cuts the wrong wire, they blow up a building, and then they're busted down to traffic cops, essentially so that Riggs can threaten pedestrians with murder. Riggs is less a dark, suicidal loose cannon at this point than a jester, a fool, an element of chaos in Murtaugh's sketch of a family. This is the one where Murtaugh declares he's about to retire; and the one where the menace is a rogue-cop arms dealer (Stuart Wilson) trafficking in Teflon-coated, armour-piercing, cop-killer bullets. This is the one that picks as its social issue the crisis of young black males in the inner city as they fall in with the wrong people (the LAPD, apparently) and get shot by black cop Murtaugh. The dead black kid in question happens to be a buddy of Murtaugh's teenaged son, resulting in a crisis of conscience for Murtaugh for some reason. Needless to say, if Lethal Weapon 3 has something to say about inner-city violence, Boyz N the Hood-style, I have no idea what that might be.
Leo returns as irritating sidekick and comic relief, occupying a space in the series now as a male even more emasculated than Murtaugh. In the next film, he's given an unspeakable monologue about his childhood best friend (a frog) and tasked with articulating that the entire saga has been about neutering Riggs. If nothing else, Lethal Weapon 3 serves to establish the absolute corruptness of white culture from a white-dominated Keystone Cops force, with the Capt. Murphy (Donner cousin Steve Kahan) character taking a more central position and Leo taking on the role of real estate agent in a slapstick subplot in which he does his best to sell Murtaugh's termite-ridden money pit. The film makes the homosexuality of its central pair more prominent as well, overtly in the typical sitcom-misunderstanding sense, but covertly in the love-triangle situation that arises when Riggs has to confess to Murtaugh that he's had sex with Lorna. Riggs and Murtaugh also have a spat on a boat that includes Riggs's criticism of Murtaugh's drinking while ending in another one of those moments when strangers come upon the pair with a raised eyebrow. Make no mistake, Lethal Weapon 3 is inexcusable crap, but it's sort of intriguing inexcusable crap.
If not for Jet Li, Lethal Weapon 4 would actually be worse. Jet is a Triad enforcer in the film and so beautiful in his action sequences that it casts into harsh relief just how clumsy and ridiculous Gibson, Russo, and Glover are in opposition to him. It's a bit of the true fana; and though Jet suffers the exact indignity of other Asian action legends like Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan when teleported into American film, for the time he's on screen, suddenly the entire franchise doesn't seem so aged and pathetic. This time around, Lorna starts the film pregnant and pining for Riggs to put down his sword and pound it into a ploughshare. No spoiler to say she gets her wish--somewhat of a spoiler to say she gets it by way of a rabbi performing a completely meaningless (to them) Jewish ceremony while she's on a gurney, in labour. If you're surprised by the idea of Mel Gibson shitting on the Jewish wedding ceremony in a film: why? Adding to the indignity, the glass smashed at the end of the ceremony is a piss cup Leo (now a private investigator) has stolen from an elderly black man, who asks in indignation, "Do you know how long it took me to fill that?" Ah, prostate jokes. That's funny--almost as funny as a joke earlier in the same scene where an old woman shits herself because Lorna grabs the old lady's I.V. trolley. What could possibly be funnier than old-person incontinence? Nothing in this film, anyway.
Chris Rock is cast as loud, wise-cracking, obsequious detective Butters, who has, secretly, knocked up (but not before marrying) Murtaugh's idiot daughter Rianne, leading to alleged comedy with Butters and Rianne making doe eyes at one another over poor, dumb Murtaugh's grizzled head. In a film that boasts at least a dozen ugly murders, the central tension is whether Riggs's spawn will be born a bastard in the eyes of the Lord. This is the one that opens with Riggs tricking Murtaugh into disrobing and dancing around in his boxers as a sideshow distraction in the final stripping of his dignity. I don't know that it's progress, necessarily, that the butt of humour in the films shifts from Trish to Murtaugh. This is the one that has a cobwebbed laughing-gas-at-the-dentist's gag as well as that bit where Murtaugh adopts a mute, ridiculous Chinese family, shipped to the United States in indentured servitude to evil Uncle Benny (Kim Chan). It's all part of a plot to somehow free the "Four Fathers" of Chinese organized crime and an excuse for Donner to tackle another liberal cause he hasn't bothered to research, resulting in its inclusion in this piece of shit feeling like exactly what it is: racist, hot-button exploitation. If you're keeping a tally, Donner has now used Apartheid, inner-city gun violence, and Chinese slavery as plot points in his empty, often-abominable crap-fests. Wandering into a room and shouting "Rape is bad!" is not the same as demonstrating empathy and intelligence.
It's as good a time as any to discuss the soundtracks for these films. Celebrated in some quarters (and almost universally upon release), they're a collaboration between Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn that is, essentially, the same jazz-fusion bullshit you'll hear trickling from your local street-mall pavilion. It's overused and expository and somehow smug and self-satisfied, if as good a commentary as any on the films themselves, providing the pictures more extratextual irony as though more were needed. They are among the worst scores in a decade of bad scores and they only degenerate in subsequent instalments as the boys invite good buddy Sting to raise the self-indulgent assclown quotient to deadly levels. If you were to mute the music on these films, they would each instantly earn an extra half-star. It's also not a bad time to mention Mary Ellen Trainor as the originally-billed "Police Psychologist," and how it will take three films for her to earn a proper name in the credits (Stephanie Woods) and four for her to receive her doctorate. The joke on her is that she tries repeatedly to do her job and get Riggs talking about his depression and suicidal tendencies (and periods of Stooges-inspired mania), only to be belittled and, in a few instances, sexually harassed for yuks. It bolsters the idea that the only thing these movies like more than male bonding and shooting at people is hating women. Hardy har har.
Lethal Weapon 4's plot is convoluted, but it doesn't matter because at this point, all that's left is an improv-heavy wall of noise interspersed at regular intervals with ultraviolent action sequences. Rock proves as he will continue to prove that he's not now and never will be a movie star; Gibson surprises as he will always surprise that no one suspected he was completely loony tunes and not merely playing completely loony tunes; and Glover saddens as he always will that he doesn't get more roles like the ones he had in To Sleep With Anger and The Royal Tenenbaums. The movie is a disaster, never more so than in its hospital epilogue, preceded by Leo's infamous dad-in-the-chimney speech where he reveals that Riggs and Murtaugh are as special, but different, to him as his childhood friend Froggy. It's about family, see, and Riggs and Murtaugh are as much kin to Leo as his frog was. The last shot of the film is a group photo where Trish admonishes a photographer with the same message ("No! We're family!"), delivered in total seriousness and without a hint of irony. If you wanted to, you could say that Jet's presence in this picture is all one needs know about the institutional racism of Hollywood towards Asians. Consider that in that same year, Jackie Chan found himself the sidekick to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour and Brother Chow Mira Sorvino's protector in The Replacement Killers. (Beat Takeshi took on Keanu Reeves three years earlier in Johnny Mnemonic). In other words: Fuck you, guys.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The new-to-Blu-ray "Lethal Weapon Collection" houses five BDs in a slipcase that has as its cover art a burning fuse à la Mission: Impossible. It's not hard to figure out that as Mad Mel has made himself completely unmarketable to an American audience, Warner Bros. decided to excise him from the packaging, but I do wonder if that's not shortsighted given the American propensity to immediately forget any atrocity. Odder still is that although you could rationalize it if you wanted, there are no fuses anywhere in the Lethal Weapon quadrilogy. Wouldn't a bullet firing out of a gun be more appropriate? Anyway, all four films appear in brand-new, sparkling 1080p transfers, the first at 1.78:1 per studio policy with 1.85:1 titles, the last three at 2.40:1 in accordance with the franchise's switch to 'scope.
The relative low budget of Lethal Weapon is ineffably obvious, and I'm blaming the handful of muddy scenes on a combination of that and a certain diffuseness that was the hallmark of both late-'80s action and DP Steven Goldblatt (Young Sherlock Holmes). I doubt, for instance, that there was any more clarity to be squeezed from an early nightclub scene in which Mr. Joshua takes a Zippo to the forearm, but it still looks pretty terrible. Better is a newly-remastered 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, likely based on the six-track mix that accompanied 70mm prints, that takes full advantage of the entire soundstage. The gunshots are particularly meaty and deep. Unfortunately, you can also hear the score with real, enveloping clarity. Supplementing this first disc are an awful music video (3 mins., SD) and a remarkably dated trailer (2 mins., SD), in addition to thirty minutes of deleted scenes that include Murtaugh showing his whiny little shits a copy of "World Geographic" to illustrate a point about starving children, an Airplane! joke about Roger's name also meaning "affirmative," a bit with Riggs picking up a hooker so he has someone to watch Three Stooges with, and a disturbing sequence involving a sniper on an elementary schoolyard that shows just how crazy Riggs actually is.
But the centrepiece is a legendarily dreadful commentary track by Richard Donner and some asshole who isn't identified until the yakker for the third film as Derek Hoffman, a producer or something on a few of Donner's films like that classic Timeline and the Superman II redux. Donner sounds every inch the doddering, grumpy gramps archetype; if Phil Harman were still alive, I'd think it was him on there doing his James Stockdale impersonation...or his Frankenstein. Fire bad.
It starts right away as Donner gruffs out "GOOD MUSIC!" as "Jingle Bell Rock" opens the picture, followed by this exchange:
Hoffman: "It's interesting that you make it a Christmas movie in L.A. because it doesn't look like Christmas."
Donner: "I KNOW."
The track is indicated by extended periods of silence, with Donner occasionally apologizing, "SORRY, I'M WATCHING THE MOVIE AND I'M REALLY ENJOYING IT!" You can imagine him at the early buffet, yelling at the soup. He'll also take pains to trainspot the bumper stickers littered throughout: "WHAT'S THAT ONE? DOLPHINS? HAHA!" He misses no opportunity to praise the genius of Glover and Gibson, and, yes, he will sometimes stop and ask Hoffman what a character has said. If you can suffer through all of it, that will make two of us.
I would like to take this opportunity to offer that if you made a drinking game out of the term "good script work" you'd be wasted toot sweet, and to isolate a moment in which Donner comments, "LOOK AT THAT LITTLE KID, SHE'S A GRANDMOTHER NOW!" in regards to youngest daughter Carrie (Ebonie Smith). I did a little digging. Ebonie Smith is, this year, 34. I have my doubts that she's a grandmother. Donner is probably just making a point about time flying--but when he says this about a young black girl, it comes off as outrageously offensive. Put that on a bumper sticker, you amazing prick.
I never saw the 2006 Blu-ray release of Lethal Weapon 2, but by all accounts this box-set retread is a miraculous improvement, if by its inclusion of lossless audio alone. A slicker film than its predecessor, Lethal Weapon 2 looks it here despite an inconsistent grain structure. Goldblatt or the telecine operators laid off the filters for this round; it's not as orange. The audio is full and logical--the mix has aged nicely--and packed to the brim with irritating score. Note that this disc contains the theatrical cut despite Donner's commentary having been recorded for the Director's Cut DVD. Four minutes of deleted scenes are a lot less interesting than Lethal Weapon's own not-exactly-bar-raising deleted scenes, though there is a nice bit of Eighties cheesecake in a totally superfluous pool scene. Therein, Murtaugh is described as not knowing how to swim, which is directly at odds with the scene in the first film where he swims (and the fourth where he swims, and the third), and made off-handedly by Gibson in what I will assume is a bad-intentioned ad lib. Yeah, I get it. I bet Glover got it, too. A quick "Stunts and Action" (4 mins., SD) vignette is one of those contemporary publicity bits that showed on I don't know where and is not the slightest bit engaging. It covers the death-by-surfboard sequence. There's also a trailer that is surprisingly good.
It's good enough, in fact, that Donner and Hoffman mention it right at the beginning of their commentary:
Hoffman: I think you used that as a teaser trailer.
Donner: THESE CHASES?
Hoffman: Just that moment.
Donner goes on to drop a reference to The Manchurian Candidate that makes no sense in or out of context. He does this again a little later when he goes on a reverie about how in series television it's hard for a new director to step in and feel welcome but that this wasn't the case for Lethal Weapon 2. If any of you have any idea what the old fucker is talking about, shoot me a tweet. Was the first Lethal Weapon a TV series that Donner didn't direct? Donner mentions that Spielberg visited the set because he liked the first film so much, and takes pains to note the gun-control bumper sticker that appears in the background of one scene. He does this without irony. Donner has nothing to say, sadly, on the subject of Kensit's nude scene(s), though thinking back, he did have a great deal to say about Mel's ass in the original. He does ask Hoffman what Kensit says during the sex scene. It's like watching the film with your grandfather: a very special feature indeed.
Lethal Weapon 3 ups the ante in terms of video quality with extreme detail and dare I say modern clarity. It's sharp, with black levels truly pitch; the switch in cinematographers to Die Hard's Jan De Bont (shooting his final film before he became a director with Speed) probably accounts for a lot of this. Audio-wise, ditto. The disc features the Sting + Eric Clapton music video for "It's Probably Me," which should join Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" as Best Shitty Song Composed For Shitty Franchise Sequel. It's, appropriately enough, a shitty, first-year humanities project of a video--watch it on YouTube for free and you'll see what I mean. Four more minutes of deleted scenes are four more minutes of life-suck, though it does cause me to wonder why Donner would even think of shooting a scene where Murtaugh opens his gun safe. There's a tiny smidge more about black gangs in L.A.--edgy!--plus more about dogs, and a gag about "women drivers" and a fainting black man, too. Oh, Richard, you card.
The commentary on this one, the last of the ones recorded fairly recently, has the classic moment at about two minutes where Donner proclaims: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE.
Hoffman tries to get something out of Donner about evolving the franchise but all Donner really wants to do is get patronizing and defensive in the manner of someone suffering from dementia. Listening to Donner speak for any period of time is a Herculean task. Luckily, he spends most of this one chuckling amiably over bits of the film he seems to be seeing for the first time.
THIS IS SILLY! WE WERE HAVING FUN! (Followed, no doubt, by a quick aside of PANCAKES! and CHANGE MY DIAPER!)
We're also reminded constantly of how wonderful the actors are, and there's a long, mid-film reverie that concludes: YOU END UP WITH SOMEONE VERY EXCITING AS A WOMAN WHO IS JUST AS GOOD AS A GUY. WE WERE A FORERUNNER!
Great fucking bearded Christ. Best are the long silences where Hoffman is clearly derailed and uncomfortable with the Dada falling out of Donner's mouth. Still, Hoffman's no less guilty when he says stuff like, "She reminds me of Margot Kidder from Superman," to which Donner replies, "HUH, INTERESTING!" Then both sit quietly with nothing to say to one another.
Lethal Weapon 4 arrives with easily the best transfer of the bunch, but it's also the entry photographed--by Andrzej Bartkowiak, who would likewise depart for a directing career soon after--with the least character. Hello, digital age. The audio is most comparable with Lethal Weapon 3's, if superior in regards to gunshots and rear-channel spread. "Pure Lethal" (30 mins., SD) is a whimsically-scored series of outtakes that begins with clips from all four films before transitioning to a Glover-narrated publicity reel produced in 1998. It's sooooo bad it made my gums ache. "I remember it just like it was yesterday!" says Glover in full Uncle Remus, making bad puns and doing the impersonation of Walt Disney's introductions to "Wonderful World of". "Now here's a scene I'll NEVER forget!" and cut to Glover on a toilet.
The commentary this time around is ported over from the '98 DVD release and pairs Donner with producers Mills Goodloe and Geoff Johns. It's unbelievably poor and demonstrates that Donner's manner with people is generally patronizing and aggressive disguised/excused by his power of position. He's a bully--an ideological one without any weight and a technical one without any skill. The biggest mystery is why there's anyone else on this commentary anyway, but hang in until the 20-minute mark when Donner starts going off on the NRA and armour-piercing bullets. Let's not forget that Riggs kills the final victim with armor-piercers--not to excuse them, you know, but what the fuck is anyone trying to say here? Donner also admits that the first film was his favourite and that he essentially kept doing them because they made so much money. To his credit, Donner gives mad props to Jet and speaks of how Gibson was not able, in any way, to keep up with the martial artist. About an hour in, Donner explains that if he slow-mo'd all the stuff in the film it would look like a John Woo film--"NOT TO DISRESPECT WOO, HE'S GREAT"--and then goes on to opine on how "we" just have a different sensibility when it comes to reality in film and how to shoot martial arts. He says that he had to ask Jet to slow down so he could film him in real speed. Let's sit together in amiable silence and think about this entire line of thinking. And let's agree that Donner thinks Woo makes martial arts pictures. If anyone gave a crap about Asian people, Donner would be sitting in Q-Meter jail next to his good buddy Mel.
IF WE LEARN TO RESPECT ANIMALS, WE LEARN TO RESPECT OURSELVES!
Want more? There's a fifth Bonus Disc I'm not going to spend too much time on. It houses four 30-minute, HD docus, starting with the well-appointed retrospective documentary "Psycho Pension: The Genesis of Lethal Weapon". I liked the bit with Black, who talks about his writing style as being heavily influenced by William Goldman and, it's implied, Joseph Wambaugh. Interesting. There's also a chat here filmed at Donner's house in 2010 with Gibson and Glover. Glover looks impossibly old and Gibson impossibly deranged. He's far, far gone, folks, and that was two years ago. "A Family Affair" (30 mins.) adds stuntmen and coordinators discussing things that are literally only interesting to family members and shut-ins. "Pulling the Trigger" (30 mins.) recounts how seat-of-the-pants the ideas for sequels were formulated after the surprise success of the first film. The revelation there is that what seems like half-assery in pursuit of the mighty buck was, in fact, half-assery in pursuit of the almighty buck. Lastly, "Maximum Impact" spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Lethal Weapon 4 was one of the last action films made without the aid of CGI when, in fact, Donner himself revealed in the yak-track a couple of scenes with Jet that were wire-aided and corrected in post with, say it together, CGI. It also touches on how influential the series was. What it doesn't talk about is whether it's a worthy legacy. BONUS DISC C