“Have you ever met anybody you didn’t kill?”
“Well, I haven’t killed you yet.”
Spring, 1987: Some friends and I head out from the base to the movie theater, ready to check out what looks to be a pretty fun action movie. Ah, such innocent times. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were riding high, but Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were still waiting in the wings. What did we have? Mad Max as a “cop on the edge” partnering with…Albert from The Color Purple (or Mal from Silverado, if you prefer)?
Our admittedly minor concerns were baseless of course, as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover bring us the first team-up of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, and proceed to lay down the smacketh upon all manner of criminal folk. Drug dealers, mercenaries, and other miscreants stand no chance against the “Lethal Weapon” and his partner, who may or may not be too old for this shit.
As unlikely partners, Riggs and Murtaugh soon find themselves hip deep in a murder mystery involving the daughter of an old war buddy friend of Murtaugh’s. Soon, the detectives uncover a drug trafficking scheme that stretches back to the Vietnam War, of which both cops are veterans harboring memories they’d rather not revisit. They dig too deeply, of course, and run afoul of the drug runners, who retaliate by taking Murtaugh’s daughter hostage. It quickly becomes apparent that the only way to deal with the problem is to let Riggs loose to do the one thing he does with uncanny skill…..
These days Mr. Gibson is perhaps better known for his directorial efforts (including the recently released and very well-regarded Hacksaw Ridge), and for some unfortunate personal issues that he’s battled, but back in 1987? He was The Man. Coming off his third turn as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Gibson gives us an all-new take on the tried and true “loner cop on the ragged edge” trope, with Glover serving as his older, more experienced, and ever-suffering compadre. The action, quips, and typical 80s tough-guy humor all come fast and furious as Gibson’s Martin Riggs shoots, punches, kicks, and otherwise pummels his way through a seemingly unending wave of bad guys. Gary Busey provides a worthy foil for Riggs, in the form of “Mr. Joshua,” loyal lieutenant to the movie’s main bad guy, General Peter McAllister.
Oh, and Eric Clapton is on hand to provide some kick-ass music, too.
Directed by Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman: The Movie, and The Goonies) from a script written by Shane Black, Lethal Weapon premiered on March 6th, 1987. It was the hot action ticket at the time, and of course spawned three sequels over the next eleven years (along with a sorta kinda cameo nod-type thing in 1994’s Maverick). There was talk for a long time about a fifth installment, but such discussions and gossip seemed to fade as the years went by. Whether that was due to Gibson’s off-screen troubles, a lack of involvement from director Donner – who directed the previous four films…oh, and Maverick with its aforementioned cameo nod-type thing – or the simple fact that he and Glover had aged out of the roles is fodder for the gossip mill. There also were rumors about a reboot of the property for the silver screen, with Gibson to be replaced with another, younger actor (Chris Hemsworth’s name was batted around for a time), but nothing ever materialized on the movie front.
Television is another story, however, with the franchise being reimagined in weekly series form beginning last fall on Fox. The show stars Clayne Crawford as Riggs and Damon Wayans as Murtaugh, and while the basic premise that drove the original film is honored in the broad strokes, the series has taken the characters and setup in their own direction. It didn’t hurt that writer/director Shane Black, who wrote the screenplay for the original Lethal Weapon film, helped series creator Matt Miller write the story and lay the series groundwork with the show’s first episode. Despite a few quibbles, I’m enjoying the new take on things and eager to see where the series goes.
As for the original film? I place it and its sequel alongside Die Hard as my favorite 80s-spawned action fests. (Don’t worry….Commando still gets in there, too.)
I’m not too old for this shit. Are you?