Like Die Hard (1988), Lethal Weapon (1987) is another one of those movies that launched a franchise, and of which I had only seen the last installment. I think. I know I only had seen Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), which I remember for it being Jet Li’s debut in American cinema. As for the Die Hard series, I am fairly certain I saw Live Free or Die Hard (2007), and I may have seen A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). Whichever one of those features a car being used to take out a helicopter, then that one definitely crossed my eyeballs. Unfortunately, there are some things you cannot unsee. The notion of a land-based vehicle being used against a flying machine speaks volumes to the kind of shenanigans that have become a hallmark of these films. This is all, of course, without mentioning the fact that there are those out there that think Lethal Weapon, today’s film, is a Christmas movie!
Nothing gets you in the Christmas spirit quite like the beginning of Lethal Weapon. A mostly naked Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) writhes in ecstasy on her couch in her apartment, the aftereffects of the drugs she is inhaling, before she eventually leaps to her death. Can we please stop with the confusion over the meaning of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas?” Being called to investigate this death is family man and police homicide Sergeant Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover). When we meet him for the first time, he also nude, because for some reason his wife and children decided to surprise him in the bathtub with a birthday cake. Who does that? Comment below if that has ever happened to you. Completing the trifecta of characters being shown for the first time in their birthday suits is narcotics officer Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). In stark contrast to his eventual partner, Riggs lives alone in a trailer, is haunted by the death of his wife, and is contemplating suicide. There is that familiar spirit! Because of his issues, Riggs has a reputation within police ranks as being a potentially loose cannon. The one person that does not believe Riggs is their captain, Ed Murphy (Steve Kahan), and he pairs the two thinking the more level headed Murtagh will keep Riggs in line. Their first case involves Amanda Hunsaker, the daughter of an old acquaintance of Murtagh’s named Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins). He wants them to find out how she could have gotten into that life, but in doing so they begin to uncover something bigger than the life of drugs and prostitution in which Amanda had fallen. This becomes apparent when they attempt to visit the home of Dixie (Lycia Naff), another prostitute who had witnessed Amanda’s death. As Murtagh and Riggs approach her home, it is obliterated in a deafening explosion. In sorting through the wreckage, Riggs finds evidence that points to a group of mercenaries he encountered while fighting in Vietnam who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The question then becomes: why would such a group care about a Los Angeles prostitute. Murtagh suspects Michael knows more than he is letting on, and he and Riggs go to Michael for answers. At this meeting, Michael confesses to working for an organization known as the “Shadow Company,” a rogue outfit bringing in heroine from Laos. Before Michael can reveal any other secrets, he is shot from a helicopter by a member of the Shadow Company, Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). Shadow Company’s next step is to silence Murtagh, and in order to pressure the cop into giving himself to them, they kidnap Murtagh’s oldest daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe). While Murtagh and Riggs are able to successfully free Rianne at the exchange, they are both captured by Shadow Company. Again, they manage to escape, but figure that Mr. Joshua will attempt retaliation by going to Murtagh’s home and taking out his family. He and Riggs race to the Murtagh’s residence, Riggs arriving first. He is then able to defeat Mr. Joshua in hand-to-hand combat, but before the other police can get the handcuffs on the Shadow Company agent, he breaks free and attempts to shoot the two cops. Luckily, Murtagh and Riggs beat him to the act, and kill Mr. Joshua before he can harm anyone else. In gratitude, the Murtaghs invite Riggs to their home for Christmas dinner.
I guess this final scene of Riggs entering the Murtagh home for a celebratory meal is what makes Lethal Weapon a Christmas movie? Or is it because you see Christmas decorations in the Murtagh’s living room, or in other parts of town? Because it is set in Los Angeles, it is a little difficult to tell that it is actually Christmas outside of the Christmas trees. In other words, it is hard to tell the Christmas for the trees. No? Anyway, spirit is something that I would like to discuss in terms of this film, and it has nothing to do with Christ’s birth, though hopefully we can get back to that subject. At the same time, “spirit” is a word used a lot in films to describe in bland, general terms the zeitgeist of the days surrounding Christmas. For this reviewer, this is a must for a Christmas movie. Today’s film gets off to a bad start in this regard. Nudity, drugs, and suicide are not a part of the kind of spirit God hoped to bring into the world through the birth of His only son. In a larger sense, the movie does not care about concepts like peace and good will towards all men. While one can rightly point to the budding friendship between Murtagh and Riggs as evidence of at least something approaching the proper Christmas spirit, the trail of bodies they left along the path that led Riggs to Murtagh’s door on Christmas Day suggest otherwise. I get it. They are officers of the law exercising their duties as they see fit. It is also a bunch of over-the-top, action film nonsense that has about as much to do with Christmas as any other day. The film could have been set during Earth Day and there would have been little difference in tone or outcome.
People love Lethal Weapon, just like they love Die Hard. I do not know why. They are not particularly bad, if you can get past the drug, violence, and nudity. They are not smart, either, which is a concept I find myself increasingly hoping for in each movie I watch. Still, at least we get some good family values from the Murtaghs, even if they do not take Rianne’s pot smoking seriously.