Lethal Weapon (1987)
Directed by Richard Donner
With Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan.
The film that began a series of engaging buddy-cop action-comedies, Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon introduces the sparky pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover – the former a suicidal cop-on-the-edge – the latter an “I’m too old for this shit!” cop with a young family and everything to lose. Thanks to a fertile combination of Shane Black’s witty script, actor repartee and Donner’s overseeing eye, the two-worlds-collide formula is a winning one.
The abiding impression has little to do with plot mechanics – more a general affection for the interplay between the leads as Gibson and Glover quickly form a bond. Buddy-cop movies are often driven by an undercurrent of unspoken love between two male protagonists – Lethal Weapon is no exception.
Between the sounds of Eric Clapton’s electric guitar trilling and David Sanborn’s saxophone flourishes, the movie wears a noir-ish playfulness that is amplified by the performances. That’s not to ignore its hard edges; suicide, torture, prostitution and drug use regularly surface in a film that has a flavorsome blend of fluctuating light and shade.
There are a few character inconsistencies, one in which Glover orders an armed criminal to show his hands, then, in the next moment, looks away and forgets the danger, leaving himself vulnerable. It sounds like nit-picking to flag it up, but it ignores who we’re being told Glover’s character is, and thus, pulls us out of the movie.
There are amusing observations that frame the film in its time: an incidental scene in which Glover and a police colleague opine about 1980’s men being overly sensitive wussies.
Besides a pair of one-note bad guys and a run-of-the-mill plot, you could build a case to say that Lethal Weapon pars with Die Hard as the standout 1980’s cop thriller, certainly in terms of heart and warmth. There’s a satisfying nuance to Richard Donner’s direction; broad, cinematic tones blending seamlessly with playful levity, during which Glover and Gibson spark an honest chemistry that imbues the whole film with an undeniable affability.