L.A.P.D. Homicide Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, who has just celebrated his 50th birthday and is worried about getting old, receives a message from Michael Hunsaker, an old Vietnam War friend who he has not seen in over 12 years. Before he can meet him, he is called to investigate a suicide and learns that the victim is Hunsaker’s daughter, Amanda. Elsewhere, L.A.P.D. Narcotics Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs, who is suicidal following the recent death of his wife in a traffic accident, nearly kills a disarmed suspect after flying into a psychotic rage during a drug bust. Wary of his behaviour, Riggs’ superiors transfer him to Homicide, and Murtaugh finds out to his horror that Riggs is his new partner……..
Both an archetypal buddy movie and one of the defining action movies of the 80s, this remains a terrific cop movie, though when one hasn’t seen it for a while, it’s quite a revelation. The sequels got progressively more humorous, but this first film,while certainly not devoid of laughs, is a lot more serious, intense and really is quite dark in its depiction of Mel Gibson’s character Riggs. It’s also surprisingly leisurely paced for its first half, letting the plot build gradually and allowing us to really get to know our two main characters, helped immensely by Gibson and Glover displaying incredible chemistry right from their first meeting. Come the second half, it’s just content to throw action scene after action scene at us, but, despite becoming pretty unbelievable, they have a real edge because we have grown to love Riggs and Murtaugh immensely. Constantly underrated director Richard Donner stages these scenes with tremendous skill, even employing some quite ‘modern’ -style fast cutting in some bits such as the final showdown between Riggs and Gary Busey’s rather scary main villain, but still lets us see what is going on. I wish more of today’s action film directors would study films like this and realise cinematic mayhem is much better when you can see it! As I write this, I am remembering not only how everyone used to like Mad Mel and how great he was as an action guy, but also how Lethal Weapon had one of the worst edited-for-TV versions ever, with not only all the swearing but whole scenes, including some of the action, removed. TV may be ‘dumbing down’ more and more, but at least we now get to see most movies the way they were intended!