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Blogvent Day 6 – Lethal Weapon (1987,USA)

06/12/2011

Director: Richard Donner       Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey

Having resolved my technical difficulties I can now bring you the sixth entry in the Blogvent series, a film I had intended to unveil on Day 2 before my plans were forced to change due to some disc damage that stopped it from playing. All that has since been dealt with and so with great pleasure and without further ado I proudly present Lethal Weapon as my sixth Christmas film this December and unlike the other Shane Black yuletide actioner I have already mentioned (The Last Boy Scout), this one is overtly festive.

Just in case you’ve never seen it, Lethal Weapon is the fist installment of what would become a four film franchise following two L.A.P.D. detectives, Roger Murtaugh (Glover) and Martin Riggs (Gibson) as they get into various scrapes and sticky situations as they go about their business protecting and serving. Murtaugh, having just turned fifty, feels over the hill and under pressure to prove he still has what it takes. Riggs is a volatile loose cannon, psychologically scarred from his experiences as a special forces sniper in Vietnam and suicidal after the death of his wife in a car accident. Thrown together when their Captain forces them to be partners, they find themselves drawn into a conspiracy during the investigation of the murder of a young woman, the daughter of an old friend of Murtaugh’s.

I’m not sure what it is about the action movies of the late eighties (see also Die Hard or perhaps Predator) but they seem to have defined the genre and really represent the zenith of the action movie arc. It certainly does no harm that Lethal Weapon is written by Shane Black, a man who seems to have tapped into the source of platonic male relationships in a way Kathryn Bigelow can only dream of and has a wonderful ear for one liners and wise cracks that keeps his movies fun no matter how dark the moment. I’m a little too young I think to fully appreciate how original (if at all) a film like Lethal Weapon was when it first arrived on the scene but I can vouch for the fact that it has influenced the genre massively ever since in much the same way as Die Hard did. It’s easy to see why.

Glover and Gibson are phenomenal in the lead roles, the chemistry between them, even early on when they are both suspicious of each other is perfect, natural even and you have no trouble accepting the lengths they are prepared to go to for each other even though they have only really just met. There can be little doubt that Gibson’s Mad Max channeling, uber-intense Riggs was his breakthrough moment, securing his place in the pantheon of Hollywood giants and the film serves as a reminder of the Gibson we all knew and loved before he turned into the troubled megastar he is now. Glover is his straight man in the film, understated, mature and far less intense, his presence sometimes the soothing influence, sometimes the calm before the storm.

The contrast between the two main characters is typical Black, Murtaugh the contented family man versus Riggs the despairing loner and the disparity is what provides the tension in their relationship that the film draws its energy from. I suspect that this is why the film is set at Christmas time, what better why to emphasise this difference? Of course the film is redemptive, Murtaugh accepting Riggs into his family home, offering him the lifeline he needs to step back from the brink of self destruction. Then again maybe the whole Christmas thing is just an opportunity for a shootout in a Christmas tree lot, some snappy “Merry Christmas” type comments from Riggs and the opportunity for a fist fight to careen through a fully decorated Christmas tree. To be honest it succeeds on both fronts, so the motivation isn’t really important. What is important is the execution, which is pitch perfect.

It’s a lively film, wonderfully paced even in it’s quieter, more contemplative moments it never feels like it’s dragging. The director’s cut of the film (which this was) does offer a few extra minutes of broadly unnecessary material but it’s still good fun and doesn’t do any damage even if it seems a little bit unnecessary. The action set pieces are very well executed (there is one exception – a spectacularly poorly matched up stunt man to main performer moment when Riggs is hit by a car) and are actually pretty varied, increasing in intensity as the film steamrollers along to its inevitable but entirely satisfying conclusion. There are, admittedly, some moments that feel a little underdone, particularly a fight scene between Riggs and one of the bad guys which is a stylised blur, presumably in an attempt to conceal the actors’ lack of combat skills which these days would most likely be remedied by a three month boot camp ahead of filming but which here threatens to undermine the special forces rep of the men involved. It’s a minor quibble though, a tiny blemish in an otherwise magnificent film.

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