Friday, June 7, 2019

38. Lethal Weapon

The movie: Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Molly Brady.

Molly's rationale: I chose this American heroes' tale, following Danny Glover's Detective Murtaugh and a pre-publicly anti-Semite Mel Gibson's Detective Riggs as a must see for Krizel because, frankly, it's an American rite of passage to watch the entire Lethal Weapon franchise. It's the mismatched cop partner pair movie before the cliche. Bonus: Krizel will now get my Danny Glover impersonation and probably understand like three It's Always Sunny references. Also, fun areas of critique: how many times does Gibson struggle maintaining an American accent? Isn't the saxophone jazz music during pivotal plot points weirdly distracting? Gibson's eye acting: what gives with the crazy eyes? Extra credit: watch Lethal Weapon 2. It's my favorite, South Africans are the bad guys (it's apartheid), and it has hands down the best toilet scene in a movie.

My familiarity with this movie: This is another in a long series of movies that I know a lot about but have never seen, for no real reason. I could try to seize some sort of moral high ground and claim that I’ve avoided it because I don’t want to support Mel Gibson, but I am also a man who owns more than twenty Woody Allen movies on VHS. I should really throw those out! For many years, I’d get Lethal Weapon and Die Hard confused, because I hadn’t seen either of them. (I know they’re probably very different, but they’re both late-’80s action films with two-word titles that involve death.) I remedied the latter situation only a few years ago, and now I’ve seen Die Hard probably fifteen times. Let’s hope this one is as good. And let’s see if there’s any foreshadowing of Mel Gibson’s later craziness.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Two newly paired cops who are complete opposites must put aside their differences in order to catch a gang of drug smugglers.”

What I thought of the movie: It’s hogwild, folks. So much stuff happens in this movie! There’s a great Frasier line where he says, “if less is more, think about how much more more will be.” I think about that line a lot, because I think about Frasier a lot, but it was particularly relevant during this film.
To wit, here are the first three scenes of the movie: a nude woman gets high on drugs and plummets to her death from a high-rise balcony; Danny Glover in his bathtub (that’s two nudes already, even if we can’t see any of Danny Glover’s action, so maybe it doesn’t count, but leave me alone I’m doing a bit here), surrounded by his family (in the tub, mind you!) to celebrate his 50th birthday; Mel Gibson waking up in a dumpy trailer and emerging from bed -- you guessed it -- in the nude. Three nudes out of three! I almost watched this movie on a plane. I am v glad I did not. I’ve never seen such filth! Even after people start keeping their clothes on, it’s still quite the roller coaster. Gary Busey’s one of the bad guys! Mel Gibson and Gary Busey, in the same movie. If that were done today, they’d have to call in the National Guard. In Busey’s first scene, he lets his drug kingpin boss hold a lighter up to his bare skin for several seconds, in order to establish that his character is crazy. Imagine casting Gary Busey and thinking, “we need to make sure the audience knows this guy is crazy.” I should note that the bad guys are one of the weaker parts of the movie, in that we don’t get much insight into who they are and why they’re bad (something about drugs, which I’m reliably informed are bad). We meet them only once or twice in the first hour of the movie, since that time is spent establishing Gibson and Glover’s mismatched partnership. That relationship, of course, is the enduring thing about the movie, and it’s by far the best thing about it. So many things happen in this movie: shootouts by the pool, house explosions, drive-by shootings, helicopter-by shootings. And the only reason we care about any of them is because Gibson and Glover are so magnetic. I should also note that the way this movie deals with suicide is... a little off-putting? The movie doesn’t quite play it for laughs, per se, but it’s kind of glibly done? I’m not trying to be one of those millennials here, but suffice it to say that lots of things about this movie wouldn’t be done in 2019, in a time where we talk (or at least should talk) about suicide differently than we did thirty-two years ago. It’s just of its time, and that time is 1987, which was wild as hell, and we take it on those terms and we move on. Gibson, for all his many personal failings, is a very good actor, so at least there’s that. And there’s basically no time to be OFFENDED: everything happens v v fast in this movie, and sets up a final act that really doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s because we finally have to deal with the villains, who were largely absent save for the Gary Busey flesh-burning scene. There’s a lot of “huh??” moments in the last half hour: Gibson and Glover get tortured? Gibson is suddenly great at choking dudes out with his legs? Glover’s daughter gets kidnapped, escapes, drives away, and two minutes later a helicopter (!) chases her car (!!) and basically like bangs on the car with the bottom part of the helicopter so that she’ll stop (!!!), which makes her escape extremely pointless? And the climactic fight on Glover’s front lawn is one of the most inexplicable things I have ever seen in a movie. But it’s certainly not out of place in a movie where Gibson handcuffs himself to a (different) suicidal guy and jumps off a roof with him into a big moon bounce thingy, a la Michael Scott. The guy might as well have yelled
But in the end, I definitely liked it. It’s got some solid banter (written by Shane Black, the writer-director of one of my favorite recent films, The Nice Guys). And I’m certain that it invented a bunch of the things I like about modern action films. It invented “I’m too old for this shit”! Who doesn’t love “I’m too old for this shit”?

Am I happy I took Molly’s recommendation? It truly was a rite of passage. I feel like I’ve just had my bar mitzvah, and the theme was Mel Gibson. Oh no.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Noted Minnesota native Elroy Sequeira comes through with maybe the best recommendation yet, Little Big League. BILLY HEYWOOD, Y'ALL.


  1. Yassssssss. Watch the second.

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