Kevin: Although it technically came out in March of 1987, today the stars of “Lethal Weapon” joined together to celebrate the original film’s 30th anniversary (and are you gonna be the one to tell Mel Gibson he’s got the wrong date?). To add to the celebration, Tough Guy Digest is turning back the clock to our Round Table ranking all four films in the series. Watch as Riggs goes from suicidal loner to Three Stooges-loving family man, Murtaugh lowers the property value of his neighborhood during every film, and Leo somehow sticks around despite not having any reason to do so and everyone finding him annoying.
So happy birthday gang, we’ll dislocate our shoulders, burn down Danny Glover’s house, and get our asses kicked by Jet Li today in your honor:
(Originally posted Nov. 29, 2016)
Kevin: Due to a recent bout of insomnia, I watched all four “Lethal Weapon” films on Netflix and figured this would be as good a time as any to rank them from best to worst, based on both nostalgia and modern-day sensibilities, and see what the rest of the Round Table thinks. I have a feeling we’ll all have some opinions on this one, so let’s get started:
1) “Lethal Weapon 2″:
I know it’s a sequel, but the camaraderie between Mel and Danny is better, the action is better than the first, and it looks great. As annoying as Pesci got later on, he’s a really good addition in this. They found a new breed of bad guys at the time outside of Russians, which was impressive. It’s also from a time in movies when you could see someone in the first act using a nail gun and get excited about how they would pay that off in the third act, in this case with Murtaugh taking out two bad guys and saying, “Nailed them both.” Also it deepened the character of Riggs by revealing his love of the Three Stooges that he was not able to previously demonstrate during his suicide attempts in the first movie.
Does anyone else think it’s weird that Riggs still seems to be wearing his old high school letterman jacket? Like, he apparently is one of only a few men who could shoot a Viet Cong soldier from a thousand yards away, why does he act like some loser who thinks his senior year at running back is his greatest achievement?:
2) “Lethal Weapon”:
I’m mainly putting this here for nostalgia. Even as a kid I never thought this was as great as it’s made out to be, and honestly if I had to rank the best cop-related action movies from this period I would put “Action Jackson” and “Cobra” ahead of this. But it is the first, it kickstarted some great major studio action movies, it got Shane Black started in Hollywood, and Gary Busey is perhaps the best villain in the series. It also has things that you could never do in a movie nowadays, like Riggs saying “What are you a fag?” after Murtaugh jumps on him after an explosion, and it began Murtaugh’s weird penchant of yelling “Go spit” as an insult, which never took off because it makes no fucking sense. Mel also shows his bare ass at the start of the movie, which combined with Patrick Swayze showing his ass in “Road House” in 1989 indicated that the 1980’s was a much more progressive time than people think.
Also, bonus Al Leong!:
3) “Lethal Weapon 4”:
I know this gets a lot of crap, and yes there is a ton of filler when you have to shoehorn in all the comic relief with Pesci, Russo, Murtaugh’s family, and Chris Rock – who is just as bad an actor now as he was in 1998. But despite all that, Jet Li is by far the best villain in the series outside of maybe Busey, and the climax with Mel and Danny basically getting their asses kicked by him is probably the best action sequence of any of the four films. Weirdly no other American filmmaker has better utilized Jet Li than Richard Donner did back then. Also weirdly, Danny Glover genuinely looked like an old cop about to retire in the first “Lethal Weapon,” but at the beginning of this when he strips down to his boxers he looks in better shape than I will ever be:
4) “Lethal Weapon 3”:
Horrible. This movie sucks as much now as it did then. Forget about the fact that Mel and Danny start the movie by causing a building to explode because they recklessly try to disable a bomb with no training. Then follows a “hilarious” scene where they are busted down to beat patrol and Riggs pulls a gun on a bystander for jaywalking, then they both laugh as the guy flees for his life. The action is really mediocre, it has by far the worst and most unimpressive bad guy in the series, and most of the fighting consists of Rene freaking Russo beating up guys while Mel just sits on the sidelines and claps.
Also apparently you can make bullets that shoot through steel if you just put red nail polish on at the tips. Worst of all, for about 20 minutes in the second act it turns into a sequel to “Boyz n the Hood” after Murtaugh kills the gangbanger wielding an Uzi, including a five-minute funeral sequence set to Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.” I seriously forgot what movie I was watching and thought Riggs and Murtaugh were going to avenge the death of Morris Chestnut.
Anthony: I almost agree. I think LW2 is first. Pesci is used perfectly; not too much, not too little. Great action. LW4 gets second place. Yes Busey is amazing but Jet Li is BETTER in my humble opinion. I’ve never been scared of him in any movie except this one. When our dynamic duo kills his mafia brother and he’s standing over the body I was genuinely thinking that the series is over because Jet’s going to kill all of them. Best bad guy in the series. Then LW1, then the dreck that is LW3. Although Russo beating the crap outta people holds a genuine spot in my heart still.
Kevin: Actually I agree and am officially anointing Jet Li as Best Villain in the “Lethal Weapon” universe. When I saw LW4 in the theater in 1998, the audience was audibly scared when Murtaugh shot Jet Li’s brother but ran out of bullets, because we had no idea who this Asian guy with the rat tail was before, but we knew he was seriously scary and fierce.
Also, side note: while “Die Hard” has become a new Christmas classic, I don’t know why “Lethal Weapon”” is not also a holiday favorite. Like all Shane Black movies it’s set at Christmas, it begins with a Christmas song, and Gary Busey yells “It’s fucking Christmas!” while shooting a TV.
Mike: Kevin, I concur with your list, although I must say that “Lethal Weapon 1″ is generally my least favorite of the series to watch even though it’s actually the second-best movie in terms of story, acting, development, etc. Your list is spot on so this will just be me pointing out some extra elements:
1. “Lethal Weapon 2” – We’re introduced to an amazingly hot actress whom we were all dying to see naked and were generously rewarded by Richard Donner when the time came. As if that wasn’t enough of a bonus she’s almost immediately killed off, ensuring no other man can sully her body after Riggs.
When I think of this movie, it brings me back to the school bus and listening to my friend Josh describe the ending with such zeal that it will be included in the “life flashing before my eyes” montage I hope we all see just prior to our deaths. It went something like this: “Mike, so then head villain pulls out his ID and says ‘diplomatic immunity’ and Murtaugh cracks his neck and says ‘IT’S JUST BEEN REVOKED’ before blam! Shooting him right in the head!” As a child I had no idea what that meant, but it was exciting to hear. I saw the movie two days later (I was 8). The movie also had several Chekhov’s guns: the nail gun, the doggie door, Rigg’s ability to dislocate his arm in order to escape a straight jacket, diplomatic immunity, etc. It also contains my very favorite scene in ANY “Lethal Weapon” movie, Riggs and Murtaugh’s silent moment just before Riggs pulls him off the toilet bomb.
2. “Lethal Weapon” – So many great moments: Riggs firing at a helicopter during an L.A. sunset, Riggs going off that building with the suicidal guy, Riggs and Murtaugh out in the dessert trying to rescue Murtaugh’s daughter, Gary Busey holding the cigarette lighter under his hand. The beginning of the great running gag that Murtaugh’s house was going to be destroyed each and every movie. It also has the best line of dialogue:
Riggs: “What did he mean when he said you owed him?”
Murtaugh: “We served together in ’65. Ia Drang Valley. Saved my life. Took a bayonet in the lungs.”
Riggs: “That was nice of him.”
Murtaugh: “I thought so.”
3. “Lethal Weapon 4” – Chris Rock should have never been in this movie, his horrible acting annoys me to this very day. Jet Li plays the best villain in the series by far and his death is just outstanding. It also answered a lot of questions I had as a young man, mainly yes, you can fire a machine gun underwater. This is not a joke, I might have actually shed a few tears during the final credit sequence when they display photos of the cast and crew from all the movies throughout the years with “Why Can’t We Be Friends” playing. That was just fantastic and genuinely made me feel like these were not only fun and successful, but that there was a real family behind all of them. I would love to have been on that set.
4. “Lethal Weapon 3” – Basically a disappointment. I liked when Rene Russo and Riggs were comparing scars. Joe Pesci was probably the funniest in this movie out of all three that he was in. It was bad, but I also think it was necessary in order to show Riggs’ progression as a character. He needed a strong female love interest whom he wouldn’t constantly worry about getting killed and he found it in Rene. And like it or not, “Lethal Weapon 4” would not have been as good without “Lethal Weapon 3” to build off of.
Kevin: Actually Murtaugh says the “It’s just been revoked” line AFTER shooting the dude in the head. The guy is dead and will never hear Murtaugh’s awesome comeback but it doesn’t matter, Murtaugh’s priorities were: 1) Twist his neck to ensure absolute accuracy, and then 2) Come up with witty zinger after ensuring bad guy is dead.
If you showed someone the end of “Lethal Weapon 4” completely cold they would probably assume one of the cast members had died. It has that same feel as the end of “Furious 7” where they are paying tribute to everyone’s legacy, even though at the time they were still in the prime of their careers. And I don’t care how bad most years-late sequels are, I still would have liked to see Shane Black’s proposal for a “Lethal Weapon 5.”
And yes not only was Patsy Kensit super hot in “Lethal Weapon 2” but she also got gratuitously naked, because if a movie was R-rated back then they made sure to earn it. And they made sure to make her kind of high maintenance so that Mel wouldn’t be too upset about her death. I do think, however, that it was probably not a great move to drop her off at her apartment complex right after the bad guys had just targeted them for death. Plus they showed his dog hiding in the back of his truck after he gets knocked out, but that’s the last we see of it. Did he drop it off at an all-night doggie boarding agency before going on his rampage of revenge?
Mike: Exactly. They earned the R rating with nudity and foul language. They didn’t earn an R rating because someone was smoking a cigarette or mentioning casual drug use like now. An R rating used to mean Sex, Violence, and Language. Now an R rating means the main character isn’t a practicing vegan.
Anthony: “Cobra” is still one of the greatest action films of all time. The car, the shades, the guns, the Frankenstein villain with a jaw cut from granite. When he gives the speech and “Pig” is the most pronounced word ever … Sly at his best. When they had the car chase I cried when his awesome vintage ride got trashed. Also I’ve never seen a man’s shirt ripped off so disrespectfully as in that movie. Don’t ever lean on another man’s car:
Mike: “I don’t deal with psychos, I put ‘em away.”
Kevin: Wow, the trailer for “Cobra” is exactly what you would expect:
Anthony: Wait … Sly wrote “Cobra”? Now I’m impressed
CJ: Before this turns into a “Cobra” Round Table, I will say that I still remember back in high school how terrified my friends and I were of Jet Li. Specifically the look he gives Riggs and Murtaugh right before their final fight (I think they had just killed his brother or pet snake or something). It was one of those looks where you wondered for a second if they were actually going to end the series by killing someone off.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen 2-4, but for now my list would be 1, 4, 2, 3, and 4 is almost entirely because of Li. I also still put 1 on top cause I’m just a big believer in the notion that the first movie sets the foundation for any appreciation in sequels, no matter what direction they go. We all seem to be in agreement that 4 ranks higher than most fourths would. I believe it’s due to Li and it says a lot when a bad guy can strike legitimate fear into an audience. That and 3 just sucks, period.
There’s also this great camaraderie that Mel and Danny have that pulls us all in. Chris Rock has no idea what I’m talking about here, but you could probably make 10 more of these and people would come back for the boys.
Kevin: I’ll end our appreciation with this. Let us never forget that Murtaugh is introduced in the first movie taking a luxurious bath when his entire family bursts in with a birthday cake. If you look at the water it is pretty clear, there are barely any bubbles to cover his junk:
And even if there were the wife and kids would have no idea when they barged in whether he would be getting out of the tub or jerking off or anything like that. In retrospect the Murtaughs are a weird and disturbing family.
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