Lethal Weapon 4

Jul 15, 1998 at 12:00 am

And then there's the Lethal Weapon series. This lovable little franchise retains interest as the longest-standing interracial buddy serial in history, as well as a social gauge for what Americans will go to see dramatized on the big screen. While police detectives Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Riggs (Mel Gibson) can bond through dangerous gunfights and concern over who Murtaugh's daughter is dating, we can watch with baited breath as yet another foreign-based evil moves to threaten the odd couple.

Today, Riggs and Murtaugh are simply a mainstay that audiences know and love, a regular cast with a familiarity usually held only by TV show ensembles. The plot mechanics are similarly formulaic. As Captain Riggs (yes, he and Murtaugh are captains now) prepares for the birth of a child with his girlfriend Lorna (Rene Russo), a ship loaded with illegal Chinese immigrants comes crashing into his life. Murtaugh adopts some of the newcomers, and soon a deadly crime ring comes knocking for the human cargo and blah-blah-blah.

What is important about Lethal Weapon 4 is how director Richard Donner makes good filmmaking with his cast and Channing Gibson's screenplay. Its soap operatic angles aside, Weapon is composed of equal parts dirty street fighting and excessive comedy. Martial arts expert Jet Li, making his American film debut here, is a one-man massacre as Asian princeling Wah Sing Ku. It's hard to say what's more fun about Li's scenes: watching him work or watching him kick Mel Gibson's ass. Whether it's gratuitous or not, Donner gives his stars ample screen time to work their talents well, from Jet Li's carnages to Chris Rock's making humor out of rotary phone anecdotes.

Indeed, besides its sense of humor, Lethal Weapon 4's most reliable quality is its two principals' tried and true partnership. Recently, Bulworth presented to viewers a patronizing portrait of interracial solidarity in the name of "politics," based around cultural appropriation and basic lust. With Riggs and Murtaugh, not a single scene rings hollow. Their friendship is true.

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