I was working at a movie theater in the summer of 1998, the summer Lethal Weapon 4 was released. One of my job responsibilities was to stand and wave goodbye to people as they'd leave their movies. (Armageddon came out the week before LW4, and I got a lot of mileage out of the line, "With all this waving, my Armageddon tired!"). I was excited about Lethal Weapon 4. I hadn't loved the previous installment, but Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were back, I had come to terms with the fact that Joe Pesci wasn't going anywhere, Rene Russo is about as solid a love interest as an action movie can get, I think Chris Rock is hilarious and I had heard amazing things about Jet Li. Plus, this would be the first Lethal I saw on the big screen. How could it go wrong?
Answer: In just about every conceivable way.
Lethal Weapon 3 was a mess, but it was a fun mess. LW4 isn't fun at all. It's downright boring. Everyone looks tired and uninspired (rhyme). The laughs aren't there. The action, aside from a great highway chase, is run-of-the-mill and confusingly shot. And there's a downright icky sentimental streak running through it -- a sappy side that is light years away from screenwriter Shane Black's original vision for these characters.
Every instinct the filmmakers have here is wrong. Rene Russo was a vital addition to LW3, audiences loved her butt-kicking scenes and the way she didn't conform to standard "hero's girlfriend" stereotypes. So what do the makers of Lethal Weapon 4 do? They turn her into a pregnant housewife. In my reviews of the other Lethal sequels, I complained that Leo Getz's scenes took us away from that Riggs/Murtaugh magic that makes these movies tick. So how do they fix that problem? By wedging another huge personality into the cast. The addition of Chris Rock must have seemed like an exciting choice back in 1998, but as we all now know, Rock can't act. He's a highly awkward screen presence, and he doesn't mesh well with anyone here. He's playing a fellow cop who has knocked up Murtaugh's daughter, but he isn't a character, he's playing Chris Rock. And he's playing Chris Rock badly. His bit about rotary telephones is the movie's only real chuckle, and that feels a lot more like stand-up than organic conversation. As for the other new addition, Jet Li, it takes a lot to make the guy's action sequences tedious, but director Richard Donner somehow manages.
There are so many actors in Lethal Weapon 4, they can barely fit on the poster. When you've got this many big names in a movie, all sorts of things can go wrong. Everybody wants script approval, everybody wants lots of screen time, everybody wants to look good. Plus, you've got to time it around everyone's schedules, which sometimes means rushing things. LW4 was clearly rushed. In fact, it started filming in January of 1998, a mere seven months before its July 10 release date. The ending was not yet written when the film went into production. The film was hastily edited in three weeks. All of this running around shows. This is what happens when you have a release date before you have a movie, and ten years later, it's happening even more.
The baffling plot this time around concerns the Chinese trade of illegal immigrants, which leads to even more annoying preachiness than we had in LW3. And just as LW3 confused with its "guns are bad, let's shoot people" mixed messages, LW4 wants us to sympathize with the plight of Asian-Americans and then has scenes of our hero making "flied lice" jokes.
If LW4 should be commended for anything -- which is debatable -- it is that it maintains the "R" rating of its predecessors (here's looking at you, Live Free or Die Hard -- another "fourquel" that I fear may screw the pooch). In fact, screenwriter Channing Gibson (Cradle 2 the Grave, Walking Tall) seems so enamored with the rating, the "F" word is crammed into nearly every line. But even though it's got that "R," the movie feels like a cheesy family comedy. And a bad one. Channing Gibson's script is so weak, I assumed he was a cousin of Mel Gibson's, and that Warner Brothers owed him a favor. Not the case.
When I told a friend I'd be reviewing the Lethal movies, he solemnly told me to "Watch out for that Pesci frog scene in part 4. That's all I'm gonna say." He was right to warn me, but he should have been more severe. As the movie nears its ending (and this is the only Lethal film I wanted to end -- NOW), Riggs is at his deceased wife's grave. (This is probably the screenwriter's idea of bringing the series full circle, but it doesn't work). Pesci approaches, completely out of nowhere. And he delivers a monologue about how his pet frog died when he was little that is so ridiculous, so painful, so terribly written, and so out of character that I'd imagine Pesci demanded an extra million for that scene alone. Even that would not have been enough money for what goes on here, and it's all played seriously. I'll give you the opening lines of the monologue -- any more would be cruel and unusual punishment:
You know, when I was a kid I had a pet frog. Just give me a second, let me tell you this, OK? I had this pet frog. Its name was Froggy. He was my best friend in the whole world. I didn't have a lot of friends. As a matter of fact, I've had no friends.
So, ah...yeah. That happened.
Worst of all is what has been done to Martin Riggs, who started out twenty years prior as one of the best characters in modern action film. It's not just Riggs' glorious mullet that is stripped away here, the man has no balls anymore. At the end of the film, apparently inspired by TV's Full House, the whole cast is posing for a photograph after -- yep -- two babies are born. The photographer asks the ridiculous setup question "Are you guys friends?" And all 20 or so of the gang, in unison, yell "NO! WE'RE FAMILY!" Cue "adorable" end credits montage, scored to War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" As my wince-o-meter went into overdrive, I thought back on Martin Riggs in the original Lethal Weapon -- tough, suicidal, and nearly insane. If that Martin Riggs had seen the ending of Lethal Weapon 4, he would have put a bullet through his television set. And rightly so.
Months ago, I reported that Danny Glover has said "No no no" to the possibility of a Lethal Weapon 5. Let's hope everyone feels the same. I think we're all a little too old for this shit.