|HD DVD Action-Adventure|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
Homicide detective Murtaugh (Glover), having just turned 50, is assigned an emotionally unstable new partner, Martin Riggs (Gibson), a suicidal mess, tormented by the recent death of his wife. As a result, Riggs (whose martial arts skills classify him as the “lethal weapon” of the title) is prone to taking huge risks, frequently placing himself in harm’s way. While investigating the drug-induced suicide of an old army buddy’s daughter, Murtaugh uncovers a powerful and murderous heroin-running operation based in Los Angeles.
Richard Donner’s 1987 hit is a flashy and loud cop thriller given a little bit of extra spark from the amiable Glover and wild-eyed Gibson’s pairing, but ultimately feels a bit patchy and uneven. Shane Black’s script has two or three plot turns that are very effectively timed; when you feel a scene is building toward something, a sudden event or shocking death will happen about a minute or two before you would have anticipated it. It gives the film some real snap. Unfortunately, the film ends up far from where it starts. The movie initially plays as a standard cop picture with a bit of an edge and has a strong sense of darkness and personal loss (Glover and Gibson have two very good scenes in this regard), but as the movie goes on, the evolving richness of the characters and their emotions are abandoned in favor of empty spectacle and macho posturing. The last quarter of the movie really taxes credibility during an increasingly implausible chain link of violent confrontations that spin into way over-the-top mayhem. The final section of the film goes on and on, well past the point of interest. As a result, the visceral thrills of the second half of the film seem at odds with the initial setup.
In retrospect, scenes that seemed a natural outgrowth of the characters (like Riggs’s dinner at Murtaugh’s house) feel schematic and manipulative. Instead of tight, well-observed screenwriting, it ends up feeling by-the-numbers and mechanical. The dramatic scenes all seem to be in service of the action scenes and designed to get us there, which ultimately feels too “cool” and insincere. Instead of Riggs’s and Murtaugh’s status as Vietnam vets giving their characters richness and background, it’s used solely to give them some connection to the Special Forces ops who are running the heroin ring. Even the anticipation that Riggs might have known one of the bad guys in the past isn’t used; these are unrelated other Special Forces guys and it feels a missed opportunity. The film is still a punchy and exciting ride, but it’s ultimately pretty shallow.
Production-wise the film is solid, with the big-budget slickness expected from a Joel Silver production. The large amount of night photography gives the image a more prevalent grain but the design and lighting are frequently colorful. The film is also well cast, with a terrific gallery of character actors. Tom Atkins, Gary Busey and Mitchell Ryan are particularly odious villains. Now, nearly 20 years old, “Lethal Weapon” is starting to show its age a bit. It’s filled with 80’s tropes—cocaine and pills as the drug of choice, big 80’s hair, women in suits with shoulder pads and a soundtrack filled with smoky, snaky jazzy saxophone licks. At least we’re spared cheesy 80’s synthesized songs until the “Lethal Weapon” song which plays out during the end credits. Given the sheer constant volume of profanity in films we’ve witnessed over the last few decades, the dialogue now seems a bit soft. It’s distracting when Murtaugh repeatedly shouts “Go spit!” to the villains who are torturing him, his daughter and his partner. He’s on the verge of being killed and seeing his daughter killed and that’s as far as his intensity and rage take him? There are some delights to be had from the period, to be sure. Look fast to catch a theater showing “Deadly Friend”, an in-joke “Lost Boys” marquee (Donner produced it), and (wow) a porno theater still open on Hollywood Boulevard.
Of all the HD DVD discs I’ve watched or reviewed since the format’s launch, “Lethal Weapon” is the least impressive. There’s an added clarity and crispness in close-ups of actor’s faces, hands and the like, but the gulf between a standard DVD transfer and this disc seems pretty narrow. Scenes saturated in red are softer and less distinct than the format can accomplish. The WB opening logo card is extremely dirty and should have been fixed during cleanup. The audio is fine, though the mix is a bit loud and buries some of the dialogue. The music is extremely warm and crisp (in the jazzy riffs) and loud, thunderous and punchy (for the orchestral action scenes); the disc gives the music tangible foreground presence. On the down side, the 19-year-old sound mix (re-mixed in 2000 to 5.1 which is used here) lacks the power and room flattening bass needed for the house explosion and the car crushing impact of the falling woman in the opening scene. The surround use is also extremely limited and could have been used to much better effect in the desert sequence.
Departing from the template of their previous HD DVD releases, Warners has released “Lethal Weapon” in a different version than the one presented on the previous DVD. The DVD release was an expanded cut which added 7 mins to the original 110 min theatrical running time. The HD DVD release presents the film with its original theatrical running time and presents the extra scenes as a bonus feature. The scenes are brief and don’t add much, either way, but a two-minute sequence (of Riggs facing down a schoolyard sniper) that was in the director’s cut DVD isn’t present in the “Additional Scenes” or in the film itself, which is irritating. Alternate scenes from this film were also presented on the DVD of “Lethal Weapon 4” and would have been a welcome inclusion here…as would any bonus features on the filmmakers, actors or on the making of the film. This was a smash theatrical hit for Warner Bros. and this nearly bare-bones release is a bit of a disappointment.