If something worked once, it will work again. Such is the logic of the filmmaker, or perhaps the studio who hired the filmmaker. Lethal Weapon 2, the not-cleverly-named sequel to Lethal Weapon, is pretty much more of the same. That’s how buddy-cop sequels have to be, right? We have our duo, and now we can just send them on any mission we choose. Their dialogue, camaraderie, and the action scenes surrounding them should be enough to carry 90 minutes.
There is one new addition in Lethal Weapon 2. We already know the two leads, a couple of cops named Murtaugh and Riggs (Danny Glover and Mel Gibson), but now there’s a third man in the group, an accountant placed into police protection named Leo (Joe Pesci). It’s with the inclusion of Pesci that you can see the direction the series is taking. With this film, it has become more comedy than thriller. The first chapter balanced the thrills and laughs to perfection. From moment to moment, you wouldn’t know exactly what you were getting. In this one, the tone is almost always lighter and sillier.
That’s a problem. It means there’s less weight to the action scenes, and less of a chance for things to go wrong. Having Joe Pesci make taunting and annoying comments while our cops do cop things might be funny for a while, but when something serious is going on, it’s more annoying than it is endearing. And because it lasts for essentially the film’s entirety, I had trouble making it to the end. Pesci is a good actor but his shtick doesn’t fit in with these other two characters.
I mean, with few exceptions, there’s a reason that buddy-cop films are about two people, not three. It’s far more difficult to keep everyone involved, balance three opposing personalities, and so on. Two is the perfect number, and adding a third, even if just for comedic relief, doesn’t benefit the film. It would have been far preferable to see this exact film — save for the subplot involving the Pesci character — with just Murtaugh and Riggs doing their thing. And what a movie that could have been.
There are actually a lot of elements that Lethal Weapon 2 does just as well as the original. Some are even better. The “bigger is better” approach was taken here, meaning the shootouts, car chases, and action scenes in general are all more impressive. The film opens with a chase scene which seems to last about ten minutes, and it only gets more explosive from here. This film might not be more inventive than the first one, but its action — assuming you can mentally mute Pesci’s commentary — is just as exciting.
I’m a few paragraphs in and I haven’t even mentioned the villains, who are important and more interesting this time around. The bad guys are South African, who are smuggling and dealing all sorts of illegal goods. We actually have Murtaugh and Riggs attempt to arrest them relatively early on, only to learn that they’re diplomats, and therefore have immunity. “You couldn’t even give me a parking ticket,” one tells them. That brings a fascinating dynamic to the mix: How can our detectives foil their plans without arresting them?
Granted, this mostly just happens in service of jokes, but at least it’s not as clear-cut as trying to watch the heroes arrest the bad guys for a couple of hours. There’s also a bit more depth to the character of Riggs this time around, as we begin to see just how lonely he is, and how he’s just about moved on from continually thinking about his dead wife. Murtaugh stays the straight man, underdeveloped but he loves his family, and that counts for something.
There’s some repetition to Lethal Weapon 2, which signifies, perhaps, that the creative team didn’t quite have enough ideas for the sequel, but the studio gave them money and told them to go ahead with it anyway. True, there are some creative and funny ideas, such as when a bomb is strapped to a toilet seat, and getting up will detonate it, but some of the shootouts felt the same, a home invasion in particular seemed similar to the original, and the whole concept didn’t seem as fresh. That’s a problem with a lot of sequels; only the great ones subvert that.
The scenes involving Danny Glover and Mel Gibson — and just them — are great. The banter, the chemistry, the fun — all of it is there and makes for a good time. And, in fact, it’s funnier than when Pesci shows up and tries to make us laugh. Glover and Gibson are both good actors and are comfortable here, although there’s less intensity to their performances given the film’s more comedic tone. I’d like to see them go back to the more menacing cops we saw glimpses of in the first film, although perhaps that time has passed.
I find it difficult to recommend Lethal Weapon 2 for a couple of reasons. The first is the difference in tone from the original. It balanced the comedy and thrills, while this one leans far toward the former. The second is the inclusion of Joe Pesci, who becomes irritating by the film’s conclusion. The action is still good and the scenes involving just Glover and Gibson are great, but the film around these two elements isn’t up to snuff.