Lethal Weapon 4 (review)

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Family Values

Exploding gas station? Check. Boat chase? Check. House being trailered caught in the middle of a freeway car chase? Check. Car/train collisions? Check. Underwater fighting? Check. Dislocated shoulder slammed back into socket? Check.

It’s gotten to the point where you can watch an action movie and tick off the expected set pieces as they fly by. Lethal Weapon and its first sequel were knowing parodies of action movies, but now just about every entry in the genre is an unironic parody of itself. With Lethal Weapon 4, the franchise itself is now, alas, getting too old for this, er, stuff.
There’s a rather half-hearted plot involved the Asian underworld in Los Angeles smuggling in illegal immigrants for use as virtual slave labor — a scheme police sergeants Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (The Prince of Egypt‘s Danny Glover) happen to stumble across. Their old friend Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) is around for no discernible reason — he only gets to say “okay okay okay” once, and he doesn’t get to say, “Whatever you want, Leo Getz — get it?” at all. Chris Rock is on hand as an ass-kissing young police officer as a blatant appeal to the euphemistic urban audience — most of his dialogue seems to consist of pieces snatched from his stand-up act.

The earlier Weapons were movies of the 80s — fast, furious, loud. LW4 is very much a creature of the 90s, slowing down to touch on every cliché of this decade except jokes about coffee bars: Chris Rock and Joe Pesci exchange rants about how cell phone companies screw you. There’s the hot ethnicity of the moment — the Chinese — and the requisite kung-fu fighting that comes with their presence in a movie. (Are there any Asian guys who don’t know the martial arts?) There are aging boomers moaning about getting old. Murtaugh’s advancing age was cause for humor in earlier films, but now that it’s boomer Riggs feeling the sting, it’s serious business: Riggs worries what it means that he couldn’t keep up with a bad guy in a foot chase.

And worst of all, the new cult of the child intrudes into what should be a slam-bang action movie. Murtaugh’s daughter is about to make him a grandfather. LW3‘s Internal Affairs cop Lorna Cole (Rene Russo, sadly underused here) is about to make Riggs a father. As if seeing Baby Gaps pop up everywhere and watching all those boomers push strollers cradling their cossetted little spawn through the mall wasn’t enough, now we have to watch Murtaugh and Riggs debate whether it’s worth chasing a bad guy, considering all the familial responsibilities they’ve got now. We must watch a perfect little angel of a child — the model, surely, for those about to be born — rescue all the grownups from a raging fire. We must watch grown men cooing over babies. What happened to our wonderfully psychotic Riggs? He doesn’t stare down one homicidal dog or eat one dog biscuit in this movie. What a gyp.

In case we didn’t get the message that kinfolk are really what matters, Leo Getz pops up from nowhere to let Riggs know that he considers him and Murtaugh his surrogate family. And to drive home the point, Lethal Weapon 4‘s closing credits roll over making-of photos of the cast and crew tucked sweetly in a photo album.

I’ve got nothing against family. I’ve got nothing against babies. But I ask you, is this supposed to be an action movie or a baby shower?

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