After the slight misstep that was Lethal Weapon 2, I questioned whether or not the filmmakers had run out of ideas for its two lead actors. Had all the possible situations been thought of? Was all of the potential banter all used up? The first Lethal Weapon was so much fun, but its sequel wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable. I was more wary of this third film, but my worries were quickly quelled upon viewing it. Lethal Weapon 3 is almost as good as the original.
The plot this time around takes place a few years after the last film. Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is just days away from retirement, and in a movie about police officers, this means that things have to go wrong. So, along with his partner, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), Murtaugh is going to have to foil the plot of some evil mastermind. There’s one central villain, this time coming in the form of a former cop, Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), and while he might be the least memorable of the bad guys in the series thus far, that allows for additional focus on our two beloved police officers.
That was the prime issue I took with Lethal Weapon 2, if you recall. The focus was moved away from the two men we’ve come to see so that Joe Pesci could show up and try to make us laugh. Pesci returns in this film, but in a far lesser role. And, whenever he shows up, Murtaugh and Riggs show severe disdain for him. Finally, I thought, they’re on exactly the same page as I am. Pesci’s character annoys them and they try to get rid of him at every turn. Now, that’s funny.
There’s a new “third member” to the party, this time around coming in the form of an Internal Affairs officer by the name of Lorna (Rene Russo). Better by far than the Pesci character, Lorna doesn’t attempt to draw attention onto herself and away from the actual leads of the movie. Instead, she stays in the background until needed, can handle herself in a fight, and brings out a more caring side in Riggs, allowing for some character development and letting Gibson stretch as an actor in this role. That is how a supporting cast member should be used.
The action might not be as big as the last film. Lethal Weapon 2 took the “bigger is better” approach to sequel making, while this one is a touch more reserved. Sure, there are ample explosions and fires and shootouts and car chases and everything else you want from one of these films, but it’s more dialed back and probably an easier check to swallow for the studio. With rising star costs, that’s probably a good thing.
Instead of explosive action — there still is some of that, just less than before — we get to dial it back to the human elements which make a good film. There’s some fun banter between Riggs and Murtaugh, a couple of dramatic scenes for both actors, and more comedy generated simply from chemistry among cast members than anything scripted. You can tell when the actors are having a good time with each other, and this is one of those films. We get the feeling that we could watch Glover and Gibson sitting in a car and talking for a couple of hours and it would be worth watching.
Lethal Weapon 3 doesn’t need to be a couple of hours in length, either. While I wasn’t really bored during it, there were definitely some moments which didn’t need to be included. I’m not saying a full half-hour hack-job should have been applied, but shaving off ten minutes of repetition or unnecessary moments would have improved its pacing. There are a couple of slower moments — and, no, I don’t mean the human drama, which I’ve already praised — and at least one or two parts stolen from earlier entries in the series.
Perhaps it’s because they are out of ideas, or at least are double-dipping enough times that it’s starting to be noticeable. It’s true that the climactic shootout scene is really enjoyable, but some of the middle scenes are less than thrilling not because they’re poorly shot or edited together, but because we’ve seen them in earlier entries in this very series. Sometimes movies borrow liberally from other movies in the genre, but it becomes unforgivable when they steal from prerequisite earlier chapters.
It might be hard for the film to succeed at all if it wasn’t for the lead actors. Mel Gibson is perfect for his wild-child character, someone who gets to rattle of dialogue with the best of them. This contrasts perfectly with the family man that is Danny Glover. The pair work in tandem with one another and replacing just one of them wouldn’t be the same. Rene Russo makes a nice addition to the cast as well.
Lethal Weapon 3 is a return to form for the series. It made the smart decision to stop stealing attention away from its two leads, and as a result became funnier and more focused. It’s not quite the nonstop action ride of the earlier chapters, but that is fine when (1) the filmmakers are running out of inventive action scenes and (2) we’re not necessarily here for the action anyway. There’s some repetition and some filler which could have been cut out, but for the most part this is a pretty successful buddy-cop film and I recommend it.