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  Lethal Weapon A Reason To Live, A Reason To Die
Year: 1987
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitch Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Jackie Swanson, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Bill Kalmenson, Licia Naff, Patrick Cameron, Don Gordon, Grand L. Bush, Ed O'Ross, Mary Ellen Trainor, Al Leong
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Christmas is approaching, but one person who won't be around for the big day is Amanda (Jackie Swanson), a hooker who takes a whole load of drugs while in a penthouse apartment on her own, then takes a tumble over the railing to her death. She was the daughter of Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), a businessman who now contacts an old army buddy, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), to investigate seeing as how he is now a homicide detective. Murtaugh is today enjoying his birthday, and thinks little of the message left with his wife, as besides, he will have enough on his plate what with volatile new partner Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and all...

When Mel Gibson suffered his unpleasantness later in his career, one of the most common questions raised by those disappointed fans was, what does Danny Glover think? The two had worked together so well in their Lethal Weapon series it was all the more shocking to think that Gibson could have spouted his racist comments, but Glover chose not to voice his opinion publicly. Whatever he thought, it was harder to enjoy the buddy movies the pair had made such hits of back in the eighties and nineties with that knowledge hanging over them, but the power of nostalgia was such that many aficionados were able to put aside their reservations.

After all, whatever the actors were like in real life, they were playing characters here, and we could lose ourselves in this escapism for the two hours that the movie lasted. The first movie, that was, which started it all and thanks to a well-crafted script by Shane Black, who became legendary in action movie circles, has become a classic for many followers of this genre. Looking at it now, all that was missing was the 'Nam flashbacks to make it as cheesy as possible, as all the plot points that seemed so fresh back then now look pretty hackneyed now, yet in comparison with the sequels and, for that matter, the slavish imitators, there was a welcome seriousness of intent to Lethal Weapon.

Something often missing from what came after, as if upping the comedy value made these efforts more palatable, offering audiences a good time where they didn't really have to worry about real world consequences from entertainment so designed to be over the top. There were laughs in the original, and you can see that many would take its lead, but for the most part this was played straight: Riggs is actually suicidal during much of this, which gives him the devil may care attitude of the "lethal weapon" of the title. He is still trying to get over the death of his wife in a car crash, and having lost the potential for a family that would have grounded him and kept him sane, he needs the beneficial influence of a new friend.

Who would that be then? That's right, it's Murtaugh, but at first meeting he ends up under the heel of Riggs' boot thanks to a misunderstanding, leading to the series most popular catchphrase "I'm getting too old for this shit!", even though Glover was ten years younger than the fifty he played for plot purposes. By Lethal Weapon 4, you would have agreed with him, but here it's Murtaugh's happy home life that provides the levelheadedness to contrast with both Riggs unhinged nature and the bad guys' schemes for the heroin trade. Most notable among those baddies was Gary Busey, in the role of ex-soldier Mr. Joshua, and many fans of his relished the chance to see him act the crazy man and be beaten off by Mel Gibson during a climactic mud wrestle. So to speak. The action was frequent enough, the humour knowing enough, and the serious bits weighty enough, to present an impressive package to audiences both then and now, even if it has lost some of its sparkle in the intervening years compared to Die Hard, the superior Christmas-set action movie. Music by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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