Kevin: “When I was 19 I did a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out with a rifle shot in high wind. Maybe 8 or even 10 guys in the world could have made that shot.” There are a number of reasons why Martin Riggs is dubbed a “Lethal Weapon” in the eponymous original: former military assassin, expert in martial arts, able to distract opponents with “Three Stooges” imitations. But while his legendary accuracy at pulling a trigger is often talked about, including the above example from his Vietnam War days (at least I hope this was during the war, it could have been during a vacation for all we know), from what we see over four movies it’s his partner Detective Murtaugh who is the real point blank deadshot of this duo.
Other than the attempted rescue of Murtaugh’s daughter in “Lethal Weapon,” where Riggs does pick off a few bad guys at a distance in high winds, his usual modus operandi in the series is to spray his intended targets with as much ammo as possible, without any regard for bystanders or the expense of replacement bullets on the LAPD budget. “One bad guy, one bullet” is not a motto shared by Riggs, which is why he favors the 9mm Beretta that, we are told, “takes 15 in the mag and one in the pipe.”
Even with all that firepower, by the final movie Riggs still feels the need to equip his pistol with a laser sight to overcompensate for his fading accuracy. Murtaugh on the other hand consistently carries the same 4-inch Smith & Wesson, which Riggs dismisses as something “a lot of old timers carry.” The reality is that with only six shots available, Murtaugh has to and usually does make them count, but it’s when he does his signature “twisting the neck” move before firing that he becomes the true “lethal weapon” of this series.
Watching him in action inspired me to see if I could have similar success using his technique in the real world. First though let’s take a look at how accurate he has been when performing this maneuver throughout the franchise:
1) “Lethal Weapon”:
Despite being obviously injured, Murtaugh twists his neck and makes a perfect headshot at a fast-moving and approaching target. The impressiveness of the feat is mitigated however by the rather weak “No way you live, no way” line Murtaugh delivers before the kill. As we shall see however, by the second movie Murtaugh has substantially upped his one-liner game.
2) “Lethal Weapon 2”:
South African bad guy Arjen Rudd has just filled Riggs with several bullets before pulling out his I.D. and once again proclaiming “diplomatic immunity!” (although I think most people would agree that he is starting to abuse his privileges at this point). From a great distance away, Murtaugh twists his neck and delivers another headshot before concluding with the classic kiss-off, “It’s just been revoked!” As I said in our previous “Lethal Weapon” Round Table, I used to have a problem with the fact that the bad guy never heard Murtaugh’s awesome comeback on account of being dead, but now I realize it’s actually appropriate, as otherwise Murtaugh would have to change it to “It’s about to be revoked” before shooting, which is just not as satisfying.
3) “Lethal Weapon 3”: Amazingly there is no scene in the third entry in which Murtaugh does the neck move, another reason why this is by far the worst in the series.
4) “Lethal Weapon 4”:
This is kind of a draw, as Jet Li is able to dodge the bullet due to his superhuman reflexes, but it appears that Murtaugh otherwise had him dead to rights. And even though the shot misses the intended target, as if through divine intervention it still hits another bad guy, in this case Li’s brother. Murtaugh also has no post-kill line here, but it’s hard to think of one that would be appropriate, apart from something lame like “Oh brother!”
So inspired by the above examples, as well as the target practice scene in “Lethal Weapon” when Murtaugh first demonstrates the neck-twist move to great success …
… I decided to head down to my local shooting range to see if Murtaugh’s technique would work as well for someone like me without a lot of target experience. Utilizing a similar pistol to what Roger carries and firing in a normal manner, here is what the first target looked like:
Out of 8 shots (6 with 2 warm-ups), one hit the target in the arm and one in the shoulder (which we all know from watching action movies has no effect on a person whatsoever as long as the bullet goes through). Three others hit the throat and the chest, good enough to stop someone in real life but not nearly as cool-looking cinematically as a headshot.
Now for the next round I used Murtaugh’s neck-twist move each time, and the early results were not good, with the first shot missing the target completely. The next three missed the target’s head by a few inches or more (I’ll just assume they all would have hit other bad guys standing behind him) while the fourth just grazed the top. Close, but still a sorry tribute to Detective Murtaugh’s skills.
With just two shots left I realized what I was missing: his one-liners. So just as in the movies, before firing the fifth shot I said, “No way you live, no way,” and after the sixth I closed out by yelling, “It’s just been revoked!” Result: two clear headshots worthy of being immortalized by Richard Donnor!
So if the question is “Can anyone shoot like Detective Murtaugh?,” then I can definitely say the answer is yes, provided they don’t mind looking like the kind of crazy person who might get barred from a shooting range for shouting catchphrases from movies while firing.
Check back in soon for my next real-world action experiment: Are rocket launchers safe to fire in close-quarter office spaces, as indicated by Chuck Norris in “Invasion USA”?:
PS: To read more analysis about the wacky antics of Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh, be sure to check out our previous “Lethal Weapon” Round Table if you have not already done so. Or don’t, in which case, as Murtaugh would bafflingly say, you can “go spit.”