Lethal Weapon

(Reviewed in 2002.)

“Lethal Weapon” is a big, dumb movie whose salvation is that its main characters are likeable.

It comes to us from 1987, when some of its many, many buddy-cop-action-flick cliches may have been fresher. Look at it now and see if it doesn’t sound like a parody: Two cops (one black, one white) are partnered against their will. One goes by the book, the other is a loose cannon. They uncover that most 1980s of plots, the drug-smuggling operation, and the bad guys — who are pure evil — turn it into something personal. Each cop saves the other’s life at least once, and then they are best friends.

If anything like this works, it works because the audience enjoys the interaction between the characters. Hollywood has proven time and again that the right — i.e., wrong — pairing of actors can lead to laughs; for more recent examples, see Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan in “Shanghai Noon,” or even, in small doses, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour.”

The hook in “Lethal Weapon” is that Mel Gibson’s character, Martin Riggs, is suicidal over the death of his wife. Not caring whether he lives or dies, he can go a lot further in negotiations with bad guys. This element is never dealt with properly in the film, but a respectable attempt is made.

Danny Glover is perfectly lovable as Riggs’ partner, Roger Murtaugh, a buttoned-down family man who is “getting too old for this,” as he constantly reminds us.

Now, as for the movie’s bigness and dumbness, they are considerable. Take the final sequence, in which Riggs opts not to simply arrest the bad guy, but engage in a fistfight with him, with dozens of cops standing around watching. Evidently, someone decided the film had not had enough hand-to-hand combat at that point, so another fight was written in. It’s a great fight, sure, but hard to take it seriously when it occurs on such a shaky foundation.

Some of the dialogue is questionable, too, as when Riggs tells Murtaugh a joke: “What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let’s get the flock out of here.” A dumb joke in any context, but particularly when they are in the midst of escaping from terrorists who moments earlier were torturing both of them. No doubt a screenwriter loved that joke and wanted to get it in the movie SOMEWHERE, even if it had to be in a place where no person in real life would ever say it.

But I am being curmudgeonly. “Lethal Weapon” is big, dumb fun, and often genuinely funny and exciting. It’s no sin to enjoy it. Just don’t ever think it’s anything more than big, dumb fun.

B (1 hr., 50 min.; R, profanity, violence.)