I’ve only got a week left to get adequately prepared for my celebrity meet-n-greets. I already have a couple of solid talking points for both Gary Busey and Danny Glover, but reflecting on their varied careers gave me a serious itch to watch one of their undisputed classics. I’m sure Kai doesn’t mind Lethal Weapon being inducted into the vault; it made both his list of Top 5 Movies: Gary Busey and Top 10 Movie Cops.
Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover) is an excellent LAPD Homicide Sergeant as well as a loving husband and father. For his 50th birthday, he’s given two unwelcome surprises; an apparent suicide who turns out to be the daughter (Jackie Swanson) of his old friend, Mike Hunsaker (Tom Atkins) and an unhinged new partner from Narcotics. Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) joins Murtagh on the seemingly open-and-shut Hunsaker case, and he quickly agitates Murtagh with his rumored craziness. Though they find a quick resolution to the case, Riggs has a pretty thin hunch that there may be more going on than a simple drug overdose. Once Murtagh gains some insight, they take a second look and, in doing so, uncover a huge heroin-smuggling ring. As the bodies start adding up and their lives become threatened, the boys roll up their sleeves and get bloody.
I’ve put Lethal Weapon on the back burner for vault induction for quite some time because the fact is it’s an indisputable five-heart film and what really needs to be said about it besides that it’s awesome? Penned by Shane Black and directed by Richard Donner, Lethal Weapon is widely known as a buddy cop film, and I’d argue it’s one of the best of the last thirty years. Black’s freshman effort, guided by the accomplished Donner, accomplishes two things wonderfully. It introduces and bonds two rich, dimensional characters and their respective skills unravel a complex, but not far-fetched mystery.
What I love most about the partnership between Riggs and Murtagh is that at their core, they are both dedicated, exceptional cops. Gibson’s Riggs is an emotional mess of a man, unable to cope with the death of his wife, while Murtagh is a happily married family man. While several scenes repeatedly acknowledge early on that Riggs is absolutely crazy, part of the fun of the film is Murtagh getting behind Riggs’ wild eyes and discovering the man hurting underneath. Likewise, the aging Murtagh needs Riggs to reinvigorate him because he’s not truly ready to hang up his badge and holster despite thinking he’s “too old for this shit.”
Lethal Weapon also gets major points for striking that gritty chord of the 80s. Within the first four minutes, Lethal Weapon parades out a lovely, young naked lady, flagrant drug use, and a grisly death. Two minutes later, Gibson’s narrow hindquarters are placed on grand display to offer a little eye candy for anyone more interested in the male nude. Lethal Weapon is rife with explosions and shoot outs. I’m fairly certain no other cops ever on the LAPD could have discharged the amount of ordnance Riggs and Murtagh do in just a few short hours against the baddies.
Speaking of baddies, a quality action film is nothing without an intimidating foe. Enter Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua, that albino jackrabbit son of a bitch working for the far less impressive kingpin, McAllister (Mitchell Ryan). It’s not that Ryan’s portrayal is weak, but Busey’s menacing glares, heavy artillery, and persistence make him the threat that can only be defeated by the detectives’ combined efforts. Though he has a small role, I’ve got to give a quick shout out to Al Leong who portrays Riggs’ torturer, Endo. Honestly, you can’t have a bona fide 80s action film without him.
Gibson and Glover rock as Riggs and Murtagh. Why else would the franchise have gone on to spawn three sequels? Maybe the plots of those sequels never quite measured up to the original–that’s left for another discussion–but regardless, as long as Riggs and Murtagh are on the case, audiences are guaranteed a memorable ride along.