Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

D: Richard Donner
S: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Jet Li

Fairly sincere attempt to lay the action movie to rest from the people who have been primarily responsible for churning them out for the past decade or so, director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver. How much you accept its apologetic sign off will very much depend on how much affection you hold for this particular series and its aging heroes.

Way back in 1987, Lethal Weapon offered us Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), a disturbed young cop with a death wish haunted by the demons of his recent and not to recent past. He was paired with an aging veteran, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), whose family life was more important to him than risking his neck to catch the bad guys. It's been a while. Now Riggs is himself an aging veteran and Murtaugh is about to become a grandfather. The characters have changed as the years have gone by, though their interplay is still explosive, gag filled and cheerfully abusive. But now they sit and discuss fatherhood and the onset of middle age. Younger, hungrier officers have risen in the ranks to replace them, especially one played by Chris Rock who seems to have an attatchment to Murtaugh. The pace of their life has altered and it's high time they started muttering the immortal words "I'm getting too old for this shit", and they do. Nonetheless, the plot is set in motion by an encounter with a shipfull of Chinese emigrants which collides with their fishing boat one dark and fateful night, and the film which follows concerns their efforts to combat triads and other nefarious oriental villains to see that justice is done. What follows is the usual mixture of violent death, explosions and comic interplay which fans have come to expect and will find here on the same level as before.

On the whole, they get away with it. You leave the theatre after the credit sprawl which features snapshots of the entire crew feeling that though the film was nothing special, it was enjoyable enough and seems intended to be the last of its kind. On that note, you would tend to accept it. It does a reasonably good job of balancing the elements, and makes some attempt to resolve the conflict which has supposedly driven Mel Gibson's character since the first film (though it was only really visible there) in the form of his dead wife. The cast are all on good form (though the appeal of the Joe Pesci character has always been beyond me and he's just as irritating here as ever, which is probably good news to those who like him). Rene Russo is given little to do but be pregnant, but there is a particularly enjoyable bad guy in the form of martial artist Jet Li to ensure it doesn't get too serious for its own good.

On one level the film is as xenophobic and sexist as Lethal Weapon 2, and there is plenty of up close and personal violence (though the Irish release print seems to have been judiciously trimmed at some point), but it also continues on the more cartoonish line of Lethal Weapon 3 with some over the top action scenes and the broad, silly tone maket is easier to accept as a popcorn-muncher which is easily digested and quickly forgotten. This series has long lost what edge it had (not that it was ever even intended to challenge convention. It actually very much traded on its generic nature even in its original outing), but it still boasts considerable professionalism from all concerned. Though the stunt doubles are now showing clearly, Mel Gibson handles himself well throughout, with the usual excellent support from Glover. The scenes between the two still demonstrate a light touch and a good rapport is evident. This alone makes it tolerable, as the contrivance has long gone out of it (though the integration of the Pesci character remains clumsy and convenient). Donner helms with ease (thankful of a chance to make a surefire hit no doubt following the less than spectacular performance of Conspiracy Theory), and all of the tech details are up to scratch.

In short, if you liked the first three, you'll like what we hope is the last. If not, you'll find nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, but it will fill a few hours entertainingly enough.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.