This week’s Christmas pick is the 1987 buddy cop classic Lethal Weapon. The film stars Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Gary Busey.
Being the first film in the successful movie franchise, Lethal Weapon is not just a classic action film, but it’s also a Christmas film as well. The film centers around two L.A.P.D. detectives who are reluctantly partnered together in order to solve a murder that was disguised as a suicide.
Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is an aging officer who has just celebrated his fiftieth birthday and is looking forward to an early retirement. Martin Riggs (Gibson) is a burnt out, borderline psychotic officer who is grieving over the recent death of his wife.
After an undercover drug bust in which Riggs’ life was in jeopardy, Riggs’ superiors have him transferred to homicide where he is partnered with Murtaugh who is aware of Riggs’ illustrious reputation. Both men see this new partnership as an inconvenience and are less than thrilled to work with one another.
Upon further investigation of the murder case, Murtaugh discovers that the young woman was in fact the daughter of an old Vietnam War buddy who Murtaugh has not seen in over twelve years. Distraught over the death of his daughter, Michael Hunsacker (Tom Atkins) pleads with Murtaugh to find her killers and exact vengeance. Hunsacker tells Murtaugh that he is obliged since Hunsacker saved his life in Vietnam. Murtaugh refuses Hunsacker’s plea to carry out vigilante justice on those who are responsible.
As Riggs and Murtaugh delve deeper into the case, they encounter danger at every turn and soon realize that this isn’t a shut and close case. Murtaugh eventually learns that Hunsacker knows more than he alluded to and Murtaugh discovers that the men responsible for Hunsacker’s daughter’s death are U.S. Army Special Forces who are running a heroin trafficking operation and Hunsacker is responsible for laundering their drug money.
The pacing of the film is excellent and Shane Black’s script is packed with razor sharp dialogue and terrific humor. The on screen chemistry between Gibson and Glover is the quintessential buddy cop movie. One such scene is after Riggs and Murtaugh meet one another for the first time at police headquarters, the two begin to show one another their issued side arms. Murtaugh admires Riggs’ Beretta pistol and shows Riggs his Smith & Wesson revolver. Riggs replies “A six shooter huh? A lot of old timers carry those.” Murtaugh shoots Riggs the perfect look of hatred.
As the film progresses both Riggs and Murtaugh’s bond as partners intensifies as their lives are in constant jeopardy. In one scene when the two men are following a lead that takes them to a house in the LA hills, the two men discover a drug running ring and are shot at. Murtaugh’s life is saved my Riggs. It’s after this scene that the two gain respect for one another and begin to trust one another as partners.
The next best part of the film is Gary Busey who plays the psychotic right hand man of the drug trafficking operation known as Mr. Joshua. Mr. Joshua carries out numerous executions in the film and is intrigued by his police counterparts who are moving in closer on the operation.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Murtaugh and Riggs are dispatched to the scene of a jumper. Riggs tells Murtaugh that he’s had experience in talking down jumpers and proceeds to the roof of a building while on lookers occupy the street below. Riggs begins to talk to the man who is threatening to jump and tries to ease him down by offering him a cigarette. As Riggs begins to gain the jumper’s trust, he handcuffs the man to himself and tells him that if he does jump, he would be killing a policeman in the process.
The man looses control and Riggs explodes on the man in a psychotic rage and the two leap from the building into a blown up cushion down on the street. Riggs begins to laugh as the traumatized man is carried away. Murtaugh in a fit of rage drags Riggs into an abandoned building where he begins to question his new partner’s sanity. Riggs confesses that he does have a death wish and carries with him a hollow-point bullet that he plans to use by shooting himself in the head with his pistol. Murtaugh draws his own weapon and holds it to Riggs’ head and tells him to just get it over with. Riggs snarls at Murtaugh not to temp him and Riggs begins to pull the trigger only to be stopped by Murtaugh who is stricken with fear that Riggs is not merely trying to put up a false front but that he truly is suicidal.
Richard Donner’s direction of the film is nothing short of excellent. Donner had already made a name for himself in Hollywood as the director of such classics as The Omen (1976) and Superman (1978). Donner read Black’s script and jumped at the opportunity to direct the film. The casting of Glover and Gibson was the most crucial part of the film. Both men worked well with each other on and off camera and you can see it in their performances. To ensure the authenticity of the film, both Glover and Gibson rode around with L.A.P.D. and Los Angeles County Sheriffs to immerse themselves in the role as undercover detectives.
After several years out of the spotlight, Gary Busey jumped at the chance to play the maniacal Mr. Joshua. It was a role that Busey has always been fond of and said that it was the role that helped to revive his already dwindling career. Too bad he can’t say the same about his career today.
Lethal Weapon to no surprise became and instant smash hit and went on to gross over one hundred and twenty million dollars in the U.S. alone. The film spawned three more even popular sequels and is haled as one of the most successful action series of all time.
Lethal Weapon is available on DVD and Blu-Ray box set from Warner Bros. Home Video and can be streamed via Netflix.