Boasting one of the fastest turnarounds in blockbuster movie history (which in layman’s terms means they wasn’t making it and then suddenly they were – and FAST), Lethal Weapon 4 -despite the fact it’s very existence screams a humongous cash grab – is a suprising breath of fresh air after the frankly boring third entry of Richard Donner’s mega-action franchise.
Dining out completely and utterly on the fact that all involved truly believe that these characters are universally beloved by all forms of carbon based life, the movie manages (much like the previous sequels) to reunite virtually every single character who is caught in the sizable orbit of central characters Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh, while not only adding some new faces but finally gives us a Lethal Weapon sequel with a badass villian to be reckoned with.
After squaring off against a lunatic swaddled in body armour and carrying an automatic assault rifle AND a flamethrower, Riggs and Murtaugh accidently let slip the secrets that Riggs’ girlfriend Lorna AND Murtaugh’s daughter are both pregnant in the (literal) heat of the moment. A gargantuan explosion and 9 months later and the babies are nearly due and Murtaugh is still unaware who the father of his grandchild is as everyone is keeping it from him and Riggs and Lorna are deliberating over whether to get married. Such soap opera problems fade into the rear view mirror when the duo (along with diminutive hanger-on Leo Getz) stumble across a Chinese freighter that is smuggling illegal immigrants into America due to the Triad slave trade and Murtaugh (understandably upset about the use of slaves) takes a family in and gives them shelter. This catches the ire of Triad boss type Wah Sing Ku, a living, breathing lightning fast tornado of kicks and punches, who targets the extended clans of our heros to guarantee that his plan to bribe his criminal brother out of a Chinese jail goes of without a hitch.
Of course, what with this being an American action movie, EVERYTHING goes with a hitch and thus follows brusing, high destructive action scene after action scene that is sure to cause insurers to scatter for cover.
There’s a distinct sense of change about Lethal Weapon 4 that is a major step up from the bewilderingly forgettable Part 3 and that’s mostly because it feels like everyone wants to be there. The banter is back on witty form (I don’t think Gibson has a single conversation in the whole movie that doesn’t involve some sort of excruciating pun) and the guys have more to work with what with the fact that it’s now Riggs who is starting to feel over the hill and is worried that the fact he’s lost a step may prove fatal considering he’s up against a whirling dervish of an opponent in the form of a freshly imported Jet Li.
Ah, yes – Jet Li… While a cold blooded, kung fu fighting,Triad may not be the most progressive role for this maestro of the martial arts, he’s obviously having fun with it, clearly relishing beating the shit out of the clearly overmatched Hollywood A-listers while showcasing his immense talents to a wider audience.
Dropping in an Asian talent into an establish American franchise isn’t anything new – just ask Jackie Chan about his role in Cannonball Run 2 – and in fact is still utilized today with Donnie Yen appearing in Rogue One, Tony Jaa in Fast & Furious 7 and BOTH of them popping up in xXx 3 but Li feels well used here cumulating in a satisfyingly bloodthirsy final act smackdown that sees Gibson and Glover gang up on Li in a two on one battle that pre-dates similar handicap scraps against a lightning fast foe seen in the likes of The Phantom Menace and The Raid.
Not matter how impressive the action scenes are however (the opening scene is fucking superlative) it’s suprisingly tough to get past the suprisingly large amounts of casual racism nonchalantly tossed about everytime Riggs wants to wind up the villians (“Flied lice?” Really?) not to mention the rampant homophobia displayed by Murtaugh thanks to the misunderstanding that he thinks that the reason Chris Rock’s character us sucking up to him is not because he’s in fact the mystery future son in law trying to make a good impression but because he thinks he’s gay.
Despite this, there’s still a lot to like here and there’s such a sense of a family reunion about the thing – a point ridiculously driven home by the extended coda where everyone seems to giving birth and everyone screams “WE’RE FAMILY” in unison into the camera – that it can’t help but warm even the most jaded soul.
Everyone is given something to do – watch in impressed awe as even Joe Pesci’s unbearable Leo Getz by some sort of miracle becomes actually funny and shares some good shit with franchise newcomer Rock and gawp with respect as then 52 year old Danny Glover gets in some pretty impressive licks while going toe to toe with Li – and Donner still knows his to blow shit up real good and stage an unfeasibly epic car chase which at one point tears straight through an office block and if the much promised/threatened fifth installment never comes to pass then Why Can’t We Be Friends by the Joe Venneri Orchestra blaring out of the speakers over the end credits is a decent way to wrap things up.
So the last adventure of Riggs and Murtaugh to date (so far) may not particularly be a lethal weapon, but it’s very much a gleeful one…