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Lethal Weapon 4

Good Characters and Hong Kong-Style Action Keep LW4 Going, And Going, And Going

(This review originally appeared in the July 9-15, 1997 Long Island Voice.)

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

OK, I’ll cut right to the chase: Yes, Lethal Weapon 4 is as exciting, explosive, funny and violently fun as its three predecessors.

After each of the previous three, stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and director Richard Donner all swore never to do another one unless the script was good and they were going to have fun (I assume the only other requirement was that they all had to make a lot of money). The result is LW4 makes sense — unlike most Hollywood action series sequels — and continues the development of each of the characters.

In this installment, Riggs (Gibson) seems to be in the final stages of coping with the death of his wife (which occurred prior to the first film) as he also faces impending fatherhood with Lorna (Rene Russo, returning from LW3). His partner Murtuagh (Glover) is expecting his first grandchild and dealing with a young detective (Chris Rock) who seems to be a little too interested in him for Murtaugh’s taste. I like Rock but was hesitant about his casting. Adding a younger character to help continue a series rarely works, but here it does. Credit goes both to the fact that the writers made Lee Butters three dimensional, and that Rock adding his own spin. Joe Pesci also returns as the annoying Leo Goetz, who has changed professions yet again.

What has always marked this series different from the others is its intelligence and attention to detail. For instance, about 10 minutes after I started wondering about Riggs’ and Murtaugh’s insurance rates due to the barrage of violence that follows them, it was addressed in the film. How Murtaugh keeps managing to afford his nice suits, boats and constant home repairs (this is one cop who is not safe to live near) is also addressed in an Internal Affairs investigation.

But all those details are just the mixed vegetables in the soup of LW4. The meat is a plot that involves the smuggling of immigrants from China, their slavery here, Triad bosses and a corrupt Communist general. Like Tomorrow Never Dies and The Replacement Killers, LW4 also raids Hong Kong action films for one of its stars: Jet Li as Wah Sing Ku, a villain who might be more lethal than Riggs.

LW4 is the perfect first American film for Li. While he doesn’t speak much, an actor doesn’t need to when he has that much presence. His character and attitude come through loud and clear. Adding the Hong Kong-style fighting scenes also ratchet up the violence in a series that I thought couldn’t get more explosive. The audience literally gasped in amazement at more than one scene, particularly a close quarters fight between Li, Gibson and Glover in the latter’s house.

The stunt men certainly earned their money here in just thinking up the sequences, not just implementing them. I don’t know of another series that would even try dragging its star with plastic sheeting on a table behind a truck on the freeway at high speed.

In the end, the reason the cast, crew and audience keep coming back to this series for the characters. It’s like visiting old friends; dangerous, demented friends who drive you crazy but friends nonetheless.

(A Warner Bros. release. Directed by Richard Donner.)

Review 1997 Long Island Voice. Accompanying stills 1997 Warner Bros.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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