Roger Murtaugh/ Martin Riggs
The General/ Joshua
Best Action Moment:
Its all about the build up. We have seen Riggs threaten to go off with his crazy behaviour, but after being tortured by electrocution, he not only escapes, kills a few bad guys, rescues his partner and daughter, before chasing after the remaining bad guys, bare footed, his shirt open….its an image pure 80’s.
Also don’t forget:
In the director’s cut, a sniper, a school hostage and Riggs saving the day. Its a scene that has gained much love when it was released on DVD many years back!
Riggs: “Do you really wanna jump? Do you wanna? Well then thats fine with me. Come on, lets do it asshole. Let’s do it. I wanna do it. I wanna do it”
Riggs: “Well, what do you wanna hear, man? Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin’ a bullet? Huh? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my head out and do the job right! Every single day I wake up and I think of a reason not to do it! Every single day! You know why I don’t do it? This is gonna make you laugh! You know why I don’t do it? The job! Doin’ the job! Now that’s the reason!
Murtaugh: “You’re not trying to draw a psycho pension! You really are crazy! ”
Murtaugh: “All dressed up and no one to blow”
Murtaugh: “I’m too old for this shit!”
Revenue at Box Office:
Before I start, lets make one thing clear about Lethal Weapon, this may have been one of the most successful action franchises of all time and started the boom of buddy/cop films that dogged the late 80’s and 90’s, but it weren’t the first film of its kind. The formula can go way back to 1949’s Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese film Stray Dog and the classic 1967’s In The Heat Of The Night, as the blueprints for the now well known material.
Even three years before Lethal was released, we had the classic 48 Hours, a buddy cop flick that made a star out of Eddie Murphy (way before Beverley Hills called) and even Billy Crystal had a go in the much forgotten but quite brilliant Running Scared in 1986. The only reason Lethal Weapon is mistaken as the film that started this genre is because its probably the best one of them all. A film that not only stole the box office, but spawned three very successful sequels, an upcoming TV Show and still has fans crying out for a fifth film, which will never happen, even though there is a script floating about in someone’s office and apparently its very, very good. Not bad for a series of films in which the original is now nearly thirty years old!
So what makes Lethal Weapon such a film that deserves such plaudits and acclaim from action junkies and is constantly being found and loved by a whole new generation? The main thrust of the film and the reason for its popularity is of course its two stars, a Mr.Mel Gibson and a Mr.Danny Glover. Both stars have this unique and quite wonderful chemistry that many other films have been desperate to copy. If the two lead stars can convince the viewer that they are best friends who would actually die for each other, then the buddy cop film you are making is half way there and its a reason why the likes of Bad Boys and Rush Hour were massive successes while Collision Course starring Pat Morita and Jay Leno and Whoopie Goldberg’s Theodore Rex, a film in which she teamed up with a dinosaur cop, flopped badly.
Glover was already in the public’s attention thanks to Spielberg’s The Color Purple, but Lethal made him a star and it was his grounded, loyal family man that gave a much needed heart to the entire premise. Gibson on the other hand was not quite yet the blockbuster Hollywood star that he would become. Lethal Weapon more or less took on his Mad Max personality for an American audience and his Martin Riggs became even his most popular role than he could ever have imagined. If Max put him on the road to stardom, then Riggs defined his career.
There are two overlooked scenes that sum up the entire heart of the relationship between the two, that helps not only build the bond that exists between the two characters, but also with them and the audience as well. When Riggs attends dinner for the first time at the Murtaugh house, not only establishes the love between the family to us the viewer but also shows what Riggs is missing in his life. The scene where he is all set to leave and Roger asks him did he really enjoy his “wife’s cooking?” and Riggs replies “no!”, is the moment the relationship forms from a cop partnership to something more. The other scene is when Murtaugh’s daughter goes missing and Roger asks Riggs “is he as good as he says he is?”, the fact they go through an apparent suicide mission to rescue his daughter, shows the trust Roger has in his partner and the fact Riggs would die for this family. Not bad for two officers who have virtually just met each other.
Gibson is at his best in this film. His crazy eyes and erratic behaviour, he is like a ticking time bomb and the screen just sparkles thanks to his undying charisma, a trait which Hollywood itself is missing these days as his career looks all but over due to personal issues. Glover’s more reserved and sensible nature, brilliantly fits into what Gibson is offering, as the saying goes, opposites do attract and for these two, its a match that has entered them into action folklore.
But the film’s success can not just be contributed to the two leads. The script by Shane Black, set him to 90’s stardom and even to this day he is still churning out quality films with the likes of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the recently released The Nice Guys. Black who is now currently working on a new Predator film ( in which the original he actually starred in) was a man much in demand after Lethal was released even seeing his script for The Last Boy Scout selling for an amazing $1.75m which was a record back then. His witty and stylish writing is evident throughout the film and one of the reasons why sequels 3&4 failed to match the quality of the original and the first follow up, is because Black walked away during the making of Lethal Weapon 2. He wrote an ending that saw Riggs die which was instantly rejected by the studio and so Black decided to opt away from the franchise he created, even though he admitted recently that has wrote a Lethal Weapon 5, which he believes is “really good” but probably will never see the light of the day!
The astute direction of Richard Donner was also a major factor to the success. Donner who helped the world believe a man could fly in Superman, knew all the tricks into how to make an action film and his telling experience was a major factor in making Lethal Weapon such a success.
Add Gary Busey as well, a man who is completely nuts in real life, and you also have the ultimate 80’s bad guy. While not the chief villain of the piece, that honour belongs to Mitchell Ryan’s The General, it was the Merc for Hire Joshua that stole the evil limelight and Busey shows a quiet restraint in the role, burning his arm with a lighter when asked, to finally having a glorious fistfight with Riggs at the climax.
The whole joy of Lethal Weapon and why its such a classic is because it bursts with energy. It doesn’t matter how many times you have seen the film, you still get carried away with the drug plot, laugh when Riggs throws himself off the roof handcuffed to the man he was there to help and be at the edge of the seat when Riggs and Murtaugh face the bad guys in the middle of the desert. Unlike many films that followed, Lethal Weapon just comes across like a timeless piece of film making!
While modern action films more or less concentrate on big loud action set-pieces, Lethal Weapon has virtually not one, instead focuses on family, relationships, trust and above all friendship, with some drug dealers and mercenaries getting in the way. Its not just one of the 80’s best action films, its one of the best movies of all time, and while I will end up doing the reviews of the sequels in the near future, none of the films that followed could match the quality and style of its original.
Lethal Weapon defined the cop/buddy formula and while there has been many films that have followed that have also been good, none of them have matched the moment Murtaugh met Riggs for the very first time.
An Action classic!