Saturday, December 2, 2017

Stubs - Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon (1987) Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey Director: Richard Donner. Screenplay by Shane Black. Produced by Richard Donner, Joel Silver. Run Time: 110. U.S. Action, Buddy Cop, Christmas

It may be hard to believe for some, but there was once a time when Mel Gibson was considered a popular and non-controversial figure in Hollywood. An American, Gibson had found fame in Australia, where his family had moved when he was a boy. He had become an International star following Mad Max (1979) directed by George Miller and would continue to appear in such films as Gallipoli (1981); Mad Max 2 (1981); The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and The Bounty (1984) before coming to Hollywood in 1984. While he would continue to live and make films in Australia like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), he would tend to become a fixture in American films.

A sex symbol as well as being perceived as a man’s man, Gibson would become a major star. One of those films that shows that is Lethal Weapon. His co-star was Danny Glover, an actor who had been in films since 1979’s Escape from Alcatraz, but who had only starred in one movie, The Color Purple (1985), in his career. Based on a script by recent UCLA graduate Shane Black, Warner Bros. originally thought about giving the film to actor turned director Leonard Nimoy, but Nimoy was already working on a film, Three Men and a Baby (1987), and didn’t feel comfortable making an action film. Richard Donner was given the script. Bruce Willis was considered for what would become Gibson’s role, but he would make his own cop film the next year, Die Hard.

Donner wanted Gibson, having worked together on Ladyhawke (1985), and casting director Marion Dougherty suggested teaming him with Glover. Things were cemented in a script reading with the two actors and both signed on in early Spring of 1986. Added to the mix was Gary Busey, who had been a star since playing the lead in The Buddy Holly Story (1978). Busey had not had to audition for a role since but wanted the opportunity to play a villain.

Filming got underway in Los Angeles on August 6, 1986, with a budget of $15 million. Shooting would take place in and around the city, including Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, Studio City, West Hollywood, Inglewood, El Mirage, Victorville as well as the backlot facilities of Burbank studios. It would go into release on March 6, 1987.

Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) before she jumps to her death.

It is a few days before Christmas in Los Angeles when the story opens. Inside a highrise apartment, Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) lies half-dressed and in a stupor. After doing a couple of lines of coke, she crawls out on to the railing of the balcony and then throws herself over, landing dead on the roof of one of the cars down below.

After Amanda jumps.

The next morning, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), is taking a luxurious bath when it is interrupted by his wife and children who bring him a cake for his fiftieth birthday.

Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family to celebrate his 50th birthday.

At breakfast, Roger’s wife, Trish (Darlene Love), tells him that a man named Michael Hunsaker has been trying to reach him for several days. Roger recognizes the name but tells her it’s been twelve years since he has spoken to Hunsaker. They had both fought together in the Vietnam War.

On duty, Roger is called to the scene of Amanda’s suicide and is introduced to Dixie (Lycia Naff), a prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s jump. When Roger learns the victim’s name, he realizes she is Michael Hunsaker’s daughter.

Meanwhile, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is undercover at a Christmas Tree lot where he attempts to buy coke from the lot operator. When he reveals himself as an LAPD officer, a gunfight ensues. Martin shoots three of the four drug dealers before backup arrives. While they’re looking for the ringleader, Martin is taken hostage. Martin dares the man to shoot before disarming him.

Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) makes an undercover buy at a Christmas Tree lot.

That night, alone in his mobile home at the beach, Martin contemplates suicide. After staring at a picture of his deceased wife, he loads a single bullet into his gun and puts it into his mouth before stopping himself.

The next day, Roger learns from Boyette (Grand Bush) that Amanda’s case is now being investigated as a murder because the drugs she took were laced with toxic drain cleaner, and evidence shows that someone was in bed with her just before she died.

Roger is not happy to learn who his new partner is.

Roger also learns that he is getting a new partner, but before they are formally introduced, he sees Martin, who is sitting outside his office, holding a gun. Mistaking him for a criminal, Roger tries to tackle and disarm Martin, but an expert fighter, Martin overpowers him within seconds. Roger really feels too old for this shit now.
Later, as they leave the office, Martin explains that his superiors believe he is either insane or pretending to be insane in order to receive a pension, and therefore no one wants to work with him. Roger complains that he doesn’t want to work with him either.

Roger meets with the victim's father, Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins).

At a meeting the next day with Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), Roger learns that Amanda had been involved in pornography. Hunsaker is distraught and asks Roger to kill the people responsible for her death. Hunsaker insists that Roger owes him one. Roger refuses but later tells Martin that Hunsaker saved his life in the Vietnam War.

That afternoon, Martin and Roger are called to the scene of a suicide attempt, where a man named McCleary (Michael Shaner) is standing on the ledge of a tall building. Even though neither is trained to handle such matters, Roger lets Martin go up to try to talk McCleary down.

Martin handcuffs himself to a possible suicide (Michael Shaner) and then they both jump.

Martin eventually handcuffs himself to McCleary, warning him that jumping would drag them both down and thus be a murder and a suicide. When McCleary refuses to leave the ledge, Martin pushes him and they both leap at the same time. However, by then, a large air cushion has been set up below and they fall into it safely.
Roger, however, is not happy and confronts Martin about his risky behavior. Martin reveals that he is suicidal, but that his love for police work has prevented him from killing himself.

Next, the two go to the home of Amanda’s “sugar daddy,” who is also a suspect in her murder. But they are met with gunfire and while Roger doesn’t want to kill the suspect, Martin has to do so to save Roger from being shot.

That night, Martin joins Roger’s family for dinner and tells Roger that he doubts the sugar daddy was the killer. The two spend time together on Roger’s fishing boat. After a few beers, Martin leaves, but not before he reveals that he was a sniper in the Vietnam War and believes that shooting was his only great skill.

Roger later finds an evidence package addressed to him containing Amanda’s high school yearbook and a pornographic videotape she made with other women.

The next morning, Roger is awakened by Martin who proposes that Dixie, the prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s fall, was also her killer.

Martin and Roger stop at a shooting range for no real reason.

But before they go, they stop at a firing range and both men try to show their prowess with a gun. This is a continuation of sorts of the conversation they had the night before. While Roger is good, Martin is far better, shooting rings around his partner.

When they arrive at a suspect's house, it explodes.

When they finally arrive at Dixie’s house to interview her, the building explodes. Martin finds a trigger device amongst the wreckage, which he recognizes as the same kind used by mercenaries during the Vietnam War. Neighborhood kids who witnessed the explosion tell the detectives that they saw a man at the gas meter outside Dixie’s house earlier that day, and he had a tattoo that matches the one on Martin’s arm. Martin explains that the tattoo means their suspect was in the Special Forces.

They next go to Hunsaker’s home, where Roger proposes to Hunsaker that his involvement in criminal activity is what got his daughter killed and that her murderer was Dixie, who was paid to poison her. Hunsaker admits to being part of a heroin smuggling operation with several other veterans who were part of Shadow Company, a special unit of mercenaries and assassins formed during the Vietnam War.

Just then, a helicopter flies past the house, and Hunsaker is shot and killed by Joshua (Gary Busey), one of the mercenaries from Hunsaker’s drug ring. That night, while Martin and Roger seek out Dixie on the streets, Joshua drives past and shoots, seemingly killing Martin. But when Roger goes to investigate, he finds that Martin is wearing a bulletproof vest that saves his life.

Only moments later, Roger gets word that there has been a killing near his house and rushes home to find that his oldest daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe), has been kidnapped. Mercenaries from the drug ring call, ordering him to go to Dry Lake in Victorville, California, at sunrise, saying they only want the information that Hunsaker gave him.

Roger and Martin develop a plan to retrieve Rianne safely, knowing that Joshua believes Martin is dead. The next morning, Roger drops Martin off on the outskirts of the dry lakebed, then confronts the mercenaries, who arrive with a limousine, a truck, and a helicopter full of armed men.

Mercenaries overwhelm Roger and Martin on a dry lakebed.

Roger threatens the mercenaries with a smoke grenade, and the distraction allows Martin to begin sniping from across the lakebed. Just as Martin is getting aim on Joshua, he is stopped by the ringleader of the drug cartel, General McAllister (Mitchell Ryan), which leads to Martin and Roger being captured.

Joshua (Gary Busey) enjoys torturing Martin.

In the back of a nightclub, the mercenaries torture Martin and Roger in separate rooms, trying to find out what Hunsaker revealed about the details of an upcoming heroin deal. Even though he’s strapped and hanging from the wall, Martin kills his torturer, Endo (Al Leong). Afterward, he shoots his way through the building, saving both Roger and Rianne in the process.

Martin takes after Joshua on foot through the streets of Hollywood.

Joshua hijacks a car and flees the scene. Martin gives chase on foot but loses him on the freeway. Meanwhile, Roger shoots the driver of a car containing the mercenaries' leader, General McAllister, causing the car to run into a bus and explode.

Martin and Joshua settle things with a fistfight in front of Roger's house while other cops watch.

Roger figures out that Joshua is headed to his house and the two hurry to thwart him. Joshua breaks in, but there is no one home. That is until Roger and Martin drive their car into the house. They manage to disarm Joshua. But before arresting him, Martin challenges Joshua to a fistfight. While police surround the area, the two men go at it. After an extensive fight, Martin beats Joshua, but Joshua doesn’t give up, instead he steals a police officer’s gun. But before he can shoot anyone, both Martin and Roger shoot him dead.

On Christmas Eve, Martin delivers flowers to his dead wife's grave and then stops by Roger’s house. Rianne, who has a crush on Martin, answers the door. He gives her the bullet which he almost used to kill himself to give her father, signifying that he is no longer suicidal.

But before he can leave, Roger hurries out and insists that Martin stay for Christmas dinner.

The film opened on March 6, 1987 and went on to make $120.2 million at the box office. A very good return on the $15 million-dollar budget. So good in fact, that it would spawn not just one sequel, but three: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989); Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) as well as a TV series, cleverly enough also called Lethal Weapon. The critical response at the time was fair, if not overly, positive and the film even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound.

On the surface, the film has a lot in common with Die Hard, the least of which is that Bruce Willis was almost in it. Both films deal with cops in trouble, families threatened, violent money-hungry gangs, big fight scenes that close the movie as well as a blonde-haired antagonist that refuses to give up, even after losing the penultimate conflict, and is shot dead to end the threat. In Die Hard, it was Alexander Godunov as Karl; here it is Gary Busey as Joshua. In addition, both films exude an 80’s feel, especially when it comes to the technology of the day. When Roger talks on a portable phone in Lethal Weapon, it is more akin to the field radios they used in World War Two to that mobile device in your pocket. To top it off, there are two actors in this film that also appear in Die Hard: Grand Bush, who here plays Boyette and is FBI Agent Little Johnson in Die Hard; and Al Leong, here Endo and in Die Hard, he played one of the terrorists, Uli.

Al Leong (Endo) plays a similar role in Die Hard.

Also, like Die Hard, the heroes never have a moment to take a breath and seem to recover from their wounds with great speed. Martin goes literally from being tortured while strung up to running full speed down the middle of the street after Joshua, who is driving a speeding car. This is just one example of how once the film gets going it never stops as plot points reveal themselves one after another.

At the heart of the buddy cop film is the cliché partnering a by-the-books cop, Roger, with a cop who plays by his own rules, Martin. You see this over and over again, one of the more recent examples is Zootopia (2016), an animated take on the genre. It is no accident that Roger is also a happily-married family man and Martin is a tinderbox ready to explode. Don’t fault the film for going there, since it is one of the hallmarks of these kinds of films. How dull would it be if both followed the rules, or how chaotic if they both played things by the seat of their pants? For their roles, Glover and Gibson seem to be well cast.

Gibson does have one very dramatic scene, the one in which he contemplates suicide one night in his trailer by the ocean. It is a very powerful scene for this kind of movie and shows what Gibson was capable of providing as an actor. Not really sure if he had the credentials to be a really great dramatic actor. His turn as Hamlet (1991) and the only $20 million it made at the box-office might be evidence that the world wasn’t looking for him to play those kinds of roles.

There are some parts of the movie that get somewhat tiresome, especially the rather long fight scene at the end of the film between Martin and Joshua. Not only does this scene have no real point, other than to show how macho the two men are, but it goes on far too long. At some point, one of the other would have either passed out or given up, but not these two. No matter how much punishment they each dish out, they are both ready for more. It finally takes bullets, not fists or kicks, to stop Joshua, the Energizer Bunny of villains.

Not everything in Lethal Weapon is believable. To begin with, the murder/suicide that starts the film. No one coaxes her to go out on the ledge and her suicide seems more akin to a bad acid trip than a cocaine high (or so I’ve heard). But you get the sense we see it because it’s a way to be more over the top and to throw in a little gratuitous nudity. So much cooler for her to die on top of a car than on the couch. I also get the sense that we have the big showdown in a dry lake bed for the same reason. You can almost hear that as part of the pitch, “It’ll be so cool…” Ditto blowing up the house. How exactly would Joshua know the exact time Roger and Martin were going to show up? But isn’t it cool…

Overall though, I would have to recommend this film. For the most part, it is very entertaining. Fast-paced and never really slows down, Lethal Weapon still gives the audience a real sense of who our main characters, Roger and Martin, are. This is something oftentimes overlooked in many summer films. Knowing them makes you more empathetic to them, which is something missing from a lot of films these days.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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