Monday, April 16, 2012

"Lethal Weapon 2" (1989)

Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Joe Pesci
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Directed by Richard Donner
Rated R - Violence, language, sex
Running Time: 118 Minutes (Director's Cut)

LAPD detectives Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are surprised when their drug bust turns into a massive and destructive cross-city chase.  While the perp escapes, Riggs and Murtaugh are confused to discover the trunk is full of Krugerrands, currency of South Africa, which is illegal in the United States.

To get them off the streets while the department deals with an insurance nightmare, Riggs and Murtaugh are assigned protection duty of a federal witness named Leo Getz (Joe Pesci).  Leo tells them he has been skimming millions of dollars from a massive drug organization, and has decided to testify in exchange for protection and immunity.  But when someone tries to assassinate Leo, Riggs and Murtaugh decide to dig into the case and discover Leo's drug dealers are actually a group of South African diplomats led by Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland).  Unfortunately, Rudd and his cronies are protected by diplomatic immunity.

Soon enough, Riggs, Murtaugh and Leo are all targets for Rudd's hit squads, led by the vicious assassin Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor).  But when their perp is protected against any and all crimes, Riggs and Murtaugh realize they're going to have to go outside the law to take them down.

"Lethal Weapon 2" is a pretty typical sequel.  With a bigger budget, the action sequences are all bigger and badder, and the cast is expanded.  But with all the major emotional arcs of the first film pretty well settled, "Lethal 2" has to manufacture emotional resonance for its characters, which is its major failing.  Without original screenwriter Shane Black, some of the quips and banter don't work quite as well, either.  But this second film is still a lot of fun, a worthy entry with some fine sequences, even if the the film overall isn't as good as the first.

As an action picture, "Lethal Weapon 2" needs some crackling action sequences, and thankfully the film delivers.  The opening chase sequence is awesome, and loaded with some fine humor.  Another chase later on involving a flat-bed tow truck and Riggs hanging off the back, is also cool and has a fun ending.  The film has plenty of cool stunts and fights to go around, but the finale doesn't feel as cathartically explosive as the climax of the first film.  Riggs' fight with Vorstedt in the cargo hold of a ship loaded with drug money isn't nearly as fun or entertaining as his hand-to-hand showdown with Joshua at the end of the first film, though the sequence in general does the job.

The biggest addition to the cast is Joe Pesci as Leo, who would ultimately stick around for two further sequels for not much reason at all.  But here, Leo has real importance to the plot, and he doesn't quite get too annoying until late in the game.  Thankfully, Riggs and Murtaugh let Leo sit out the climax, where he would serve no purpose anyway; it's one of the film's smarter moves.  Pesci does well enough, since the character is supposed to be annoying, but sometimes he goes too far - the drive-through rant for example, though funny, is grating to listen to.

The real problem with the script is that there isn't much meat for the characters.  Murtaugh is given some anger over the treatment of black people in South Africa. But for Riggs the film makes the mistake of trying to add an extra ripple to the death of Riggs' wife, which was the major reason for Riggs' near-suicidal tendencies in the first film.  The tenuous connection is made when here the writers decide that Riggs' wife was actually murdered... by Vorstedt.  It's an added twist that comes late in the game and frankly just comes across as pointless and kind of cruel.  It also comes right after Vorstedt has killed Riggs' new romantic interest, so it also feels like overkill.

Overall, "Lethal Weapon 2" is still fun, but not as good as the original.  It's a worthy sequel, with fine action and solid blending of comedy.  It's just not as good as the first.