Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, nudity, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 114 min. (director's cut runs 118 mins.)
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O'Conner, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Nestor Serrano
Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam
It's difficult to divorce Lethal Weapon 2 from the first Lethal Weapon, as it assumes a certain familiarity with the characters that is crucial in order to understand their nature and motivation, as well as to relate to the scenes involving the home lives of both Riggs and Murtaugh. As such, it's equally difficult to review the film on its own terms, as it benefits from the exciting momentum of the first film, although it does take it into a new direction with a different set of bad guys. If you enjoyed the first film, you will most likely be pleased with seeing the same characters back again, even if it takes the situations more into the realm of cartoonish conversations and less-than-serious confrontations. While much of the film is set up for action and laughs, there are some deadly serious moments throughout, and it is a credit to Richard Donner (The Goonies, Superman) and his capable cast that they are able to explore these shifts in tone and keep it all together for an entertaining sequel.
Lethal Weapon 2 opens with a car chase scene that ends with LA police detectives Riggs (Gibson, The Bounty) and Murtaugh (Glover, Silverado) uncovering a million in illegal South African Krugerrands. Meanwhile, the inseparable duo are also entrusted with the care of Leo Getz (Pesci, Home Alone), an underhanded money launderer and a key witness in a case that just so happens to be related, as it involves a drug smuggling operation emanating out of South Africa. As Riggs and Murtaugh decide to take a more proactive approach, they find they cannot do anything, as the main players are protected by diplomatic immunity laws that keep them from being detained or prosecuted for anything illegal they might do. In order to see justice served, the cops are going to have to go above the law, but the South Africans aren't going to go down without a fight, and Riggs and Murtaugh become their prime targets.
Lethal Weapon 2 is a bit of a mixed bag as an action thriller, as it doesn't really approach the quality of the first film, but it does have enough unique developments and memorable moments to justify its existence as a solid sequel. The addition of Joe Pesci doesn't disturb the overall chemistry of the main characters and their repartee, and in fact, he adds a great deal to the fun (is there anyone who isn't reminded of think of the line, "They f*ck you at the drive-thru!" when frowning into a bag of fast food that doesn't contain what was ordered?). The scenes involving Murtaugh's family is minimized in favor of more action out in the field, and the over-the-top car crashes and stunts, while not the most realistic (a surfboard busts through a windshield to decapitate someone), are in keeping with the premise of the series as being a tongue-in-cheek action vehicle first and foremost.
The South African heavies are painted as some sort of neo-Nazis, while the depiction of airtight protection of diplomatic immunity is very faulty at best, but for the sake of the action and intrigue, Donner does manage to keep the healthy suspension of disbelief required. Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October, K-19) does make for a formidably creepy adversary, and his South African henchmen are equally up to the task when it comes to menacing villainy. As was the case with the first film, the left-wing bent of the series manifests itself consistently (anti-smoking, pro-albacore tuna consumption, anti-apartheid statements, etc.), but never quite to the point of blatant public service announcements -- it always manages to stay true to the characters.
Lethal Weapon 2 delivers what most would expect after the first film, although the weaknesses are definitely greater. The tie-in of the South Africans with the tragedy of Riggs' past is a major contrivance which only serves to give motivation for the bloody retribution that would come later, and once that develops, the mechanical nature of the plot dissipates most of the fun. Luckily, by the time this happens, the bang requirements for your entertainment buck will have already been met. With solid action, some unexpected twists, and some choice gags along the way, it might be overblown, but Lethal Weapon 2 proves that there was still a lot of ammo left in the arsenal after the explosive first entry.
-- Followed by Lethal Weapon 3 and Lethal Weapon 4.
©2007 Vince Leo