It’s a stereotype that action movie franchises start off strong but get stupid as they go along, and if there’s truth to every stereotype, “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989) is a case in point. The explosions are bigger, the violence is more violent, Riggs is more off his rocker, the laughs are bigger (not in terms of humor, but in terms of how loudly Riggs and Murtaugh laugh), and the conflict is massively stupider.
This isn’t a case where anyone is phoning it in for a paycheck. Mel Gibson is clearly having a blast whether Riggs is hanging from the front of a speeding vehicle or asking out the supervillain’s secretary in a grocery store (if you call dragging her out of the store “asking”). Gibson slips into his Australian accent too often, but generally I get a sense that he loves having a second movie-star vehicle after the “Mad Max” saga. Danny Glover is still “too old for this,” but he’s a game enough foil for Riggs.
Director Richard Donner returns to preside over sequences that are now iconic, although it’s partially because they were later made fun of in “Loaded Weapon 1” (1993). In this movie, Murtaugh (Glover) will get blown up if he rises from the toilet; in the parody Samuel L. Jackson is simply taking a sh**. Here the bad guys shoot up Riggs’ oceanside mobile home; there they shoot up Bruce Willis’ because they get the address wrong.
Saga creator Shane Black bows out of “Lethal Weapon 2” after framing the story with Warren Murphy, and Jeffrey Boam writes the screenplay. Amazingly, Boam wrote “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” this same year. Or maybe it’s not so amazing if one assumes his heart was more in “Indy.”
“LW2” is incredibly stupid. Granted, it has value as something you can watch with your friends and laugh at and then immediately forget as you move on to “Lethal Weapon 3.” But my god is it stupid.
The villains are South African diplomats who brazenly run drugs (I think) and kill cops in Los Angeles, thinking they’ll be protected by diplomatic immunity. While this isn’t a Black screenplay, Boam channels the one-liner master with Murtaugh’s quotable reply that the bad guy’s diplomatic immunity has “just been revoked.”
Big baddie Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) doesn’t count on pesky cops Riggs and Murtaugh discarding diplomatic rules if they are pushed far enough. That’s the film’s reality. In real reality, I think it’s safe to say diplomatic immunity isn’t the same as a free pass to murder, and these criminal diplomats would be aggressively pursued by their own country in addition to local law enforcement.
This is the type of movie where the bad guys possess crates full of thousand-dollar bills. In addition to raising the question of how they acquire even one thousand-dollar bill (let alone crates of them) at least two decades after such a thing has been circulated, one then wonders how in the world they will convert the thousand-dollar bills into usable currency.
This is also a movie where Riggs pulls down a mansion with his pickup truck.
Aside from those details, the tone of “LW2” is more insane than Riggs himself – and his first vocalization in the film is a maniacal scream amid a car chase. At first, I felt bad for the South African bad guys as Riggs barges into all their diplomatic houses and embassies mainly to piss them off. Sure, they are all racist – apartheid was still in place at this time, so South Africa was one of the nations Hollywood movies could comfortably use as villains. But even so, I felt like maybe Riggs and Murtaugh could stop and take a deep breath.
In addition to investigating the case of the South African criminals who barely try to hide their activities, Riggs and Murtaugh are babysitting Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz, who is a money launderer and who is gradually becoming their friend, just by hanging around.
We are meant to judge “LW2’s” characters on their likability rather than their actions, and admittedly I did like Getz and Patsy Kensit’s Rika, the secretary for Rudd. Riggs, such a good judge of character that it’s like he read the screenplay beforehand, correctly determines that Rika herself is not evil, because she’s a cute blonde with a charming accent.
Boam inserts respectable humor here and there, including running gags about Murtaugh’s daughter (Traci Wolfe) being a condom pitchwoman (his cop coworkers buy him a “rubber” tree), and the increasing punishment taken by Murtaugh’s car.
Later, we find out the South Africans (other than Rika) are incredibly evil – one of them even killed Riggs’ wife before the events of the first movie, and he takes great pride in that deed. But Boam has put the cart before the horse. It turns out it’s OK that Riggs had pre-emptively gone apesh** on these people, but only because he lucked out – or has again tapped into his sixth sense for pure evil.
All of that said, I can’t hate “Lethal Weapon 2,” and not only because the George Harrison needle drop “Cheer Down” plays over the closing credits. “LW2” knows how extreme it is; it comes by its stupidity openly and honestly. And if we didn’t already know it, we do now: “Lethal Weapon” movies are wildly unstable actioners, mirroring their unstable hero. We’ve been duly warned.