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Lethal Weapon 4

D: Richard Donner / 127m

Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Steve Kahan, Kim Chan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Eddy Ko

An incident involving an iron-suited, flamethrower-wielding criminal leads to two revelations: that Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is going to be a grandfather, and that Martin Riggs (Gibson) is going to be a father. Nine months later the two men are looking forward to the imminent births. Out one night on Roger’s boat, and accompanied by Leo Getz (Pesci), they find themselves nearly struck by a cargo freighter. When the freighter’s crew opens fire on them, Riggs takes the fight to them and boards the vessel. The ship eventually runs aground and the cargo hold reveals a group of Chinese illegal immigrants.

Later, Murtaugh discovers a family hiding in one of the lifeboats. Instead of letting INS know, he allows them to come home with him (but he doesn’t tell Riggs; he also doesn’t tell the investigating officer, Butters (Rock), who is secretly the father of Roger’s grandchild). In Chinatown, triad boss Uncle Benny (Chan) has a visitor in the form of Triad negotiator Wah Sing Ku (Li). Wah has been expecting the family Roger has discovered, as they are an important part of his plan to free four Triad overlords (including one who is his brother) from the clutches of a corrupt Chinese general. The head of the family, Hong (Ko), has an uncle who is a master engraver; Wah aims to buy the overlords’ freedom with counterfeit money.

Riggs and Murtaugh are given promotions to captain, and they start to help Butters with his investigation. A visit to Uncle Benny sees them meet Wah but they don’t find out who he is. Leaving Leo to trail Uncle Benny, Riggs and Murtaugh are unaware of just how close they’re getting, but it’s close enough for Wah to find out where the family are hiding and to abduct them – and then to put Riggs, his partner Lorna (Russo), Murtaugh and his wife (Love) and pregnant daughter (Wolfe) in danger of being burned alive. They all manage to escape unharmed, and with Butters in tow, Riggs and Murtaugh track down Uncle Benny at his dentist’s. With the use of some nitrous oxide, they get Uncle Benny to reveal the plot involving the Four Fathers (the triad overlords). When they liaise with other detectives who work the Chinatown beat, the three men learn about the corrupt Chinese general and where the exchange is likely to take place. Interrupting the meet, they spill the beans about the money, and a vicious firefight breaks, along with a three-way showdown between Riggs, Murtaugh and Wah.

Lethal Weapon 4 - scene

The last in the series, Lethal Weapon 4 could, and perhaps should, have been a whole lot worse, but it’s a measure of the likeability of the characters, and the directorial flair of Richard Donner that, while it may still be the least in the series, it’s also an entertaining ride that will put a smile on fans’ faces. The familiarity of the material and the verbal sparring between Riggs and Murtaugh (however predictable), along with the extended action sequences and the often slapstick comedy, makes this the celluloid equivalent of being wrapped up in a nice, warm blanket on a cold winter’s evening. It’s a huge comfort to know that everything you could want from a Lethal Weapon movie is all present and correct.

With all the series’ highlights in place, the movie does meander in places, mostly when it’s trying to acknowledge the fact that its characters are getting on a bit and are “getting too old for this shit”. Given that this is the fourth in the series, and also given that there’s been a clear decision to end the franchise before it gets too derivative and stale, this acknowledgment is a welcome development. It makes for a satisfactory conclusion to the series, but all the angst and drama of the first two movies – already lessened in Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) – has now been left behind completely. Riggs’ journey from near-suicidal nut job to devoted family man is complete, while Murtaugh is a proud grandfather whose anxiety about the loss of material things (usually his car, this time round his boat) and whatever can go wrong actually doing so, is more accepting of what Fate throws at him. These are now very settled men, and while it’s heartening to see them take on the bad guys one last time, this is a movie that – fortunately – realises it’s time to call it a day.

As lighthearted – and lightweight – as it is, Lethal Weapon 4 still does its best to deliver where it matters most: in the action sequences. The opener, with its exploding tanker and fiery devastation, is as preposterous as it sounds, but is still an impressive start to the movie and at least reassures the viewer that it’s going to be business as usual. There’s the obligatory car chase with its detour aboard a trailer, a foot chase that ends with Riggs dangling from a roof, a well choreographed fight at the Murtaugh home that showcases Li’s martial arts skills, and a climactic shootout that evolves into the three-way showdown mentioned above. All are expertly shot and cut together, and all are exciting to watch, but the familiarity they bring with them makes them less than memorable. It’s a shame, but draws attention to the fact that familiarity doesn’t always breed originality.

It’s difficult as well to bring anything new to the table with such well established characters, and while Gibson and Glover are still as enjoyable to watch as always, there’s more than a hint of tiredness in their banter, as they rework old lines and try to maintain the jokiness of previous outings. This leads to some awkward dialogue being exchanged – mostly around Murtaugh’s belief that Butters is attracted to him – and a sense that all the in-jokes and series’ references were included at the expense of more original material. It’s a trade-off, no doubt willingly made by Donner and the producers, but leaves the movie feeling a little jaded and occasionally lacklustre.

On the performance side, everyone acquits themselves well, particularly Pesci who’s given a completely out of character monologue towards the movie’s end that is surprisingly effective, and Li who provides Riggs and Murtaugh with the series’ first truly formidable adversary. Two scenes aside, Russo is reduced to hovering in the background, while Rock plays Butters as an earnest, slightly duller version of the man Murtaugh may have been when he was younger. Behind the camera, Donner plays ringmaster with his usual skill and expertise, while Andrzej Bartkowiak does a great job in making even the static shots interesting to watch. And no Lethal Weapon movie would be complete without the musical collaboration of Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen, here adding another familiar element with their jazz-infused score.

Rating: 7/10 – the tag line reads “The gang’s all here” and they are, along with all the other “best bits” of the series, in a movie that could have been called Lethal Weapon’s Greatest Hits; fun, if a tad too long thanks to its need to wrap things up, Lethal Weapon 4 is still an enjoyable diversion and provides an admirable send off for its two aging heroes.