Movie Review – Lethal Weapon 2
Principal Cast : Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Steve Kahan, Mark Rolston, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Nestor Serrano, Grand L Bush, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Bruce Young, Traci Wolfe, Jack McGee, Juney Smith.
Synopsis: Riggs and Murtaugh are on the trail of South African diplomats who are using their immunity to engage in criminal activities.
Riggs and Murtaugh return to the big screen in a faster, funnier (much funnier) and far more violent Lethal Weapon sequel, reteaming Mel Gibson and Danny Glover with director Richard Donner, and throwing perennial gangster star Joe Pesci into the mix as a pocket-rocket police informant, and Joss Ackland as a snivelling South African diplomat; written again by Shane Black with help from Warren Murphy (Clint Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction) and scripted by Jeffrey Boam (The Dead Zone), this first sequel in the ever-popular buddy-cop franchise starts with a bang and simply goes up from there.
After pursuing a South African government agent through the streets of Los Angeles, only to discover a trove of gold krugerrand (South African currency), LAPD Detectives Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) find themselves at war with the diplomatically immune machinations of consul-general Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and his henchmen, led by Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor – Deep Rising), who hope to launder the currency into American dollars and smuggle it out of the country. A hurdle in Riggs and Murtaugh’s case is their reassignment to protect an obnoxious federal witness, Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) before his appearance as a witness in a major money laundering trial, while Rudd’s beautiful assistant, Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit) finds herself entangled with the charismatic Riggs. As the violence between the Afrikaners and the LAPD grows, thwarted only by Rudd’s apparent “diplomatic immunity” from prosecution, Riggs, Murtaugh and an erstwhile Getz dodge bullets, car wrecks and assassination to come out on top.
If the original Lethal Weapon was a practice swing, Lethal Weapon 2 is the full-throttle action flick audiences were clamouring for. It’s everything a successful sequel should be: bigger, better and filled with more of the stuff fans wanted – more of Riggs and Murtaugh bickering, more of Riggs’ haunted love for his dead wife, more of Murtaugh’s curmudgeonly “I’m too old for this shit” attitude (incidentally, a line never uttered in this film!) and an even better, nastier screen villain than was offered in the original movie. Although it wouldn’t become a franchise staple until the next film, Lethal Weapon as a series did something incredibly clever throughout its run, and that was to add in talent for supporting roles (Pesci in this film, Rene Russo in the third, and Jet Li in the fourth) in a manner that allowed pre-existing character to be stretched and grow in new and interesting directions. The addition of Joe Pesci’s high-strung criminal Leo Getz (“Whatever you want, Leo… gets” is arguably the line of the film) is a masterstroke, placed directly between two already combustible characters like Riggs and Murtaugh, and allows comedic gold to spit forth and three powerful screen performers do verbal and physical battle for the entire movie. Pesci, an man I’ve never given credence for as a comedic actor generally, absolutely slays as Getz, peppering his scattered delivery and wild-eyed enthusiasm with an infectious sense of familiarity and immediate likeability despite his shyster backstory.
In terms of laughs, almost every sequence in the sequel is gold – this film gave us Murtaugh’s daughter appearing in a condom commercial, a nail-gun fight in a partially constructed garage, two massive car chases, a bomb under Murtaugh’s toilet, great slimy political villainy from Joss Ackland (who I would argue is perfection as the franchise’s best screen villain), a collapsing house on stilts, several helicopter gun-battles, the opportunity to see Patsy Kensit without her kit on, and one of the best hero-one-liners ever to grace the silver screen; not bad for a late 80’s actioner made for $30m! Lethal Weapon 2 was a monster smash, becoming the third highest grossing film of the year (behind only Tim Burton’s Batman and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade), and grossed nearly $230m globally. One could suggest the return to the formula and the established chemistry between Gibson and Glover was reason enough for such a successful outing, but I think the reason is far simpler than that: Lethal Weapon 2 is just a damn fun film.
Richard Donner’s direction is aces here as well, overcoming the awkward editing of the original film to provide clean, crisp cinematography (Stephen Goldblatt returns again as DP) and Stuart Baird’s cutting of the film’s prodigious action sequences is energetic and just as charismatic as the two leads. The comedy mixes with the danger, which mixes with the tragedy (there’s a few shocking plot twists in this film to keep audiences on their toes) which mixes with the sheer energy projected at the audience the moment that saxophone swagger theme kicks in – the addition of the Looney Toons theme playing over the Warner Bros logo upon commencement is indicative of the zany, over-the-top cartoonish violence inflicted upon the characters within the movie, eliciting a sense of playful fantasy just off-kilter enough to work within the confined of this hugely entertaining romp.
Gibson, Pesci and Glover aside, Lethal Weapon 2 is also overstuffed with superbly good and “hey it’s that guy” faces, from Jack McGee (Basic Instinct) as a carpenter working on Murtaugh’s new garage, Shawshank Redemption’s Mark Rolston, Aliens’ Jenette Goldstein and Total Recall’s Dean Norris as fellow Detectives in the LAPD, and Steve Kahan once more as the perennially gruff but stoic Captain Murphy. Irish-born actor Derrick O’Connor has a wonderful time as the cruelly evil Vorstedt, Rudd’s right hand man, whose link to Riggs’ personal history likely left jaws on the floor back in the day and, especially if you haven’t seen the film before, will again. Mary Ellen Trainor, credited as “Police Psychiatrist” for some reason (I guess her character didn’t deserve an actual name yet) pops in with her sarcastic and eternally dismayed Dr Stephanie Woods, who hopes Riggs will come to his senses but likely agrees he never will, while Darlene Love and Traci Wolfe reprise their popular roles as Murtaugh’s wife Trish and daughter Rianne respectively. It’s one of those magical things about the Lethal Weapon series, in that there’s a real, genuine sense of family between all the actors on the screen, as if they aren’t merely acting but really, truly do have affection for each other off-camera as well. It’s an unquantifiable thing as intangible as it is difficult to describe, but there it is.
It’s rare that a sequel straight-up bests the film that preceded it, but Lethal Weapon 2 does that very rare thing and does it brilliantly. While the then-prescient apartheid themes of the story do tend to get lost amidst the bullets and Gibson’s ramshackle delivery, the whip-smart writing, terrific performances and Richard Donner’s delightfully potent direction are crowd-pleasing and enthralling fun. A film of this vintage also runs the risk of dating itself at times; although some of the technology present in the film might have aged out of popular culture, the overall rollercoaster ride and reliance on characters over plot ensures that even viewers watching who weren’t born when this film was made will still have a grand old time. Grab the loudest sound system you can watch this on, turn it up, and enjoy!