1989 was a ridiculously strong year for action and/or adventure movies of impressively varying quality. Batman, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Roadhouse, Kickboxer, Tango & Cash, John Woo’s The Killer, Cyborg, Lock Up and Dolph Lundgren’s version of The Punisher are only a few examples of the sheer bombast unleashed upon the cinema going public over mere 12 month period and while some endeared themselves to me heart and soul, others passed me by for multiple reasons…
One such movie I never really embraced as much as I should (and I’ve really tried guys, honest) is Lethal Weapon 2, the second adventure featuring the constantly bickering team of Riggs and Murtaugh – which has vexed me for years as it contains so much shit I usually respond to. It has top notch banter, cartoonishly over the top villains, wanton destruction and a genuinely world-class action scene moment that was quoted ad nauseam in the school yards at the time… you know the one – Murtaugh’s rousing Smith And Wesson fueled revoking of a certain chap’s diplomatic immunity. And yet I’ve only ever found the movie a pale imitation of the magnificent original which, again, is baffling as the lion’s share of the creative team had returned in force to explode this sequel into reality.
We rejoin the destructive duo mid-car chase as they run down a suspect while pounding the wheels off Murtaugh’s wife’s brand new Station Wagon. The plot immediately thickens when the perp manages to escape thanks to handy help from a mysterious helicopter but carelessly leaves behind scores of gold krugeraands which sets Rigg’s anti crime antenna twitching (not a real thing). It turns out that they have stumbled onto a conspiracy by Afrikaans officials to smuggle… something or other – look, crime is involved, ok? However, after Murtaugh and his wife are threatened at home, the two are taken off the case and instead are asked to babysit diminutive, fast talking money launderer Leo Getz who is under witness protection. Somehow weathering his incessant, jabbermouth bullshit (“They FUCK you at the drive-thru!!”), Riggs and Murtaugh discover that the Getz and Afrikaan cases are related (because fuck you, it’s movie logic) but are STILL unable to proceed due to the villains having diplomatic immunity. So Riggs launches into the highly illegal act of straight up stalking the bad guy and even seduces his secretary (thankfully it’s mutual) which causes the bad guys to step up their villainy with explosive results. Just ask Murtaugh’s toilet…
While hardly in the league of the stonking original, there’s a fair amount to love here on the surface. The bad guys, headed by an accent chomping Joss Ackland, are stunningly evil with ludicrously exaggerated dialectic and being openly murderous and racist at the drop of a hat and while blazer wearing henchman Vorstedt is hardly a match for Gary Busey’s Mr. Joshua, he’s still throughly unpleasant enough to be a threat.
The scale is impressive too, after all it isn’t everyday you get to watch an actual house over a cliff with a pickup truck and director Richard Donner’s smash mouth violence from the original is still present and correct (Riggs gleefully unloads entire clips into the bodies of his victims to the extent that you assume he owns shares in the company that makes the bullets). Despite all the returning faces on both sides of the camera, however, the loss of superstar screenwriter Shane Black (listed with “story credit” only) is keenly felt and some of the performances are of a – shall we say – acquired taste…
Be it Patsy Kensit’s eye twitchingly bad accent lancing knife-like into brain or Joe Pesci’s motor mouthed Leo Getz aggressively grinding down your very last nerve with his rapid paced, high pitched bleating (every time I hear him go “Uh-kay, uh-kay, uh-kay I can feel my life expectancy shorten significantly), various aspects keep striving to derail the flawless chemistry of the two leads.
But the real problem with Lethal Weapon 2 is that with Riggs essentially being “cured” of his suicidal tendencies by being accepted by the Murtaughs at the end of the first movie, the whole basis for the whole concept essentially doesn’t exist anymore. If Riggs has a reason to live, then he has no real character arc – unless you count boning Kensit’s character and discovering the true reason behind the death of his wife (not at the same time, of course) as an arc.
Despite all this though, Lethal Weapon 2 is hardly forgettable: how could it be when Gibson utters the legend “We’re back, we’re bad, you’re black and I’m mad!” and there’s just enough of the original magic left over from the first movie to keep this film ticking along nicely but even a scene where a guy gets obliterated by a flying surfboard can’t stop this from being a pale follow up.
The aim may be a bit off, but this weapon is still lethal enough to score a hit.