Everyone looks they’re having a good time on “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998). That’s sometimes a warning sign that the viewer will be as miserable as a wallflower at a raucous party, but that’s not the case here. Although director Richard Donner, veteran TV writer Channing Gibson (in his film debut; no relation to Mel) and the cast make this stuff look effortless, “LW4” is at the same time the most tightly plotted of the sequels as it finds room for boffo action sequences.
After the monumentally dumb (but nonetheless entertaining) “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989), the saga pulls back from so-bad-it’s-good territory for the solid boilerplate actioner “Lethal Weapon 3” (1992). Director Richard Donner and writers Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen dial back the stupidity – although there’s still plenty – and give good arcs to Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) while adding Rene Russo, who slots right in as internal affairs investigator Lorna Cole.
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.
Lethal Weapon” (1987) introduced the masses to writer Shane Black (and his penchant for setting his films at Christmastime) and gave director Richard Donner a fresh franchise after being rudely booted off “Superman II” (1981). And while it didn’t launch the buddy cop trope (1982’s “48 Hrs.” often gets credit for that), it’s perhaps the most shining example.
“Lethal Weapon 4” – There’s something about the “Lethal Weapon” films that puts them above criticism, and that something is the attitude. You know what you’re going to get from this series: characters first, action second, laughs third. Plot is considerably lower on the list, but in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. Director Richard Donner and the writers pretty much do whatever they want, and it makes for fun movies. The fourth installment is no exception. All five protagonists – Riggs (Mel Gibson), Murtaugh (Danny Glover), Leo (Joe Pesci), Lorna (Rene Russo) and Butters (Chris Rock) – have a place in this film. Also of note is Jet Li, who plays the baddest bad guy in the series to date. A-
– John Hansen, NDSU Spectrum, Sept. 1, 1998
The Fall 2016 season is Exhibit A in the case that TV is running low on original ideas: “MacGyver”(8 p.m. Fridays, CBS, Sept. 23) is a straight-up relaunch with a new cast, hoping to capture some of the popularity of the ’80s hit. Even though the movie franchise petered to a close 18 years ago with the fourth entry, “Lethal Weapon” (8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox, Sept. 21) is coming to TV, complete with the movie’s logo flashed across the trailer every few seconds, apparently to bring up warm thoughts of the films.