Lethal Weapon is the type of action-comedy I can really get into. It has strong characters and a narrative which knows when to get involved and when to sit back. It contains inventive action scenes, a couple of good actors who have some strong chemistry, and it’s exciting from start to finish. It’s hard to think of many action films that are more entertaining than Lethal Weapon, and it might just be impossible to put another buddy-cop movie ahead of it in the polls.
The film ostensibly stars Danny Glover as family man and Homicide Detective Roger Murtaugh. He begins the film celebrating his 50th birthday, and it’s made clear how close he is to his wife and children. This is juxtaposed against another man, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), who lives alone in a trailer by the beach and contemplates putting a bullet in his brain every night. He even has a special bullet picked out so that it he can ensure it finishes the job. He is also a Homicide Detective. The two men don’t know it yet, but they’re about to be teamed together for the duration of a buddy-cop film.
So, we’ve got the by-the-rules, overly cautious cop, as well as the loose cannon, got-a-death-wish one. What do we need now? A plot? A plot would probably be pretty nice. They wind up involved in a plot which has heroin, Vietnam War veterans, launderers, and more action scenes than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and Gary Busey plays one of the main bad guys — he’s not actually the top villain, but he does most of the things against our heroes and therefore transcends his henchman role.
Most of the clichés you’d expect to see in this sort of movie are here. The two partners don’t initially like each other, but after some time, they grow to do just that. Riggs gets to learn from Murtaugh how important family is and that there are things in life worth living for, while Murtaugh has to learn to let loose a little, and that he’s definitely not “getting too old for this.” Buddy-cop movies aren’t tough to figure out, but as long as they’re not boring they are generally harmless.
And if there’s something that Lethal Weapon definitely isn’t, it’s being boring. This is an action-packed thrill ride. There are lots of shootouts, a car chase, some scenes with genuine tension, more shootouts — and it’s all well-shot, competently edited, and relatively inventive. You don’t see the same thing twice; even the shootouts, of which there are many, seem different from each other. There’s also a relatively high body count, and with Riggs’ lack of caring, there’s a sense of danger in almost every scene.
A key reason that Lethal Weapon works is because of the chemistry between Glover and Gibson. In the best of these movies, the two lead actors could drive around in their car for its entirety, simply talking for the two hours, and they’d still be watchable. Lethal Weapon has two actors with whom this would certainly be the case. The banter between them is hilarious, and the two play off one another with ease.
Gibson is an actor who had done action films prior to this one, but brings an intensity and charm that makes him invaluable. You believe him in the action, but also as a crazy person. For Glover, this type of picture is a new experience. He plays the straight man of the team, as he should, but he gets a few scenes of great intensity. One in particular has both he and Gibson staring, wide-eyed, seeing who will metaphorically (and literally, I suppose) blink first. It’s a fantastic scene and it’s preceded and followed by moments of comedy, which gives you a great indication of the type of film Lethal Weapon is.
Lethal Weapon is an unequivocal success. It’s really funny, incredibly entertaining, and has some inventive action scenes and great chemistry between its actors. It’s at the top of the heap when it comes to buddy-cop movies, and is right near the top when it comes to action movies of the ’80s. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson are great as the mismatched duo, Garey Busey is an intimidating villain, and they all get a lot to do in what feels like a short period of time. See Lethal Weapon.