Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lethal Weapon

Year: 1987 (LW), 1989 (LW2), 1992 (LW3), 1998 (LW4)
Running time: 110 minutes (LW), 114 minutes (LW2), 118 minutes (LW3), 127 minutes (LW4)
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Shane Black (LW), Jeffrey Boam (LW2, LW3), Robert Mark Kamen (LW3), Channing Gibson (LW4)
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Jackie Swanson, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O'Connor, Patsy Kensit, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Rene Russo, Stuart Wilson, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Eddy Ko, Calvin Jung

Riggs & Murtaugh: The beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Written by the brilliant Shane Black, the original Lethal Weapon is a bona fide classic and the original and best of the 'Buddy Cop' formula. It would have made a star of Mel Gibson if Mad Max hadn’t already done so. Gibson as the suicidal cop Martin Riggs grieving for his recently deceased wife is a joy to watch (I know how odd that sounds, but it is no less true for that), and seeing him teamed up with ‘too old for this shit’ Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) for the first time is to witness film history every bit as hallowed as the Ben Hur chariot race or Indy’s escape from the big rolling ball at the start of Raiders. The plot is incidental - the death of a young woman who happens to be the daughter of an old friend of Roger's leads to the reluctant partners taking on some ex-military drug lords, the best of which is easily nut-job mercenary Mr Joshua (Gary Busey). What really matters here is these two characters and the bond that grows between them, which helps Riggs to get past his lost wife. Murtaugh pretty much adopting Riggs into his family literally saves his life by giving him something new to live for. The chemistry these two have while on the screen together is a thing of beauty and, thanks to Black's script, there are many moments of bro-bonding through banter (choice line: "I was driving before you were itchin' your daddy's pants"). However, that said, the ending is ridiculous – ‘we’ve caught him now, so I just want to prove my balls are bigger than his by having a big manly fight’. Cheesus Extremis.

When we come back for the sequels, I’m afraid it’s a case of diminishing quality with each successive film (probably something to do with the fact that Shane Black didn’t write them, and only contributed to the story for part 2). That said, there are moments to like in all of them (even the fourth one). In Lethal Weapon 2 the two of them are taking on a group of racist South Africans committing crime behind the protection of DIP-LO-MAT-IC IMM-UNI-TY! Joss Ackland as chief evil-doer Arjen Rudd really hams the accent up to the extreme and is not as menacing as he probably thinks he is. Joe Pesci as Leo Getz, a witness Riggs and Murtaugh are assigned to protect is a welcome addition, as is seeing Riggs' new love interest Rika Van Den Haas (Patsy Kensit) and her ridiculous accent bite the dust. Perhaps that is a little harsh, but she wasn't a character, she was a plot device. Innocent secretary to the bad guys, a way to tie the South Africans to the death of Riggs' wife and chance to see a pair of tits. Bad, bad writing.

"I'm gonna die on the toilet aren't I?"
It may not be as good as the first one, but it still has some really great moments; take for example, the scene where Murtaugh creates a diversion in the South African embassy by trying to buy a ticket to help his 'oppressed brothers and sisters' with the line "Free South Africa you dumb son-of-a-bitch!" Or the fall from the hotel window into the pool, or smashing a car out of a shipping container full of cash. Of course none of them can top the genuinely classic bomb on the toilet moment, which is played perfectly for both laughs and poignancy. Black's original idea was for Riggs to die at the end, which certainly would have made the ending, and the film, more powerful, but Warner Bros weren't ready to kill off one of their prize franchises just yet.

Lethal Weapon 3 takes yet a further dip in quality, and has fewer memorable moments. This time round we're on the trail of corrupt cops dealing in armour-piercing, cop-killing arms. There are still laughs to be had, and there are still some pretty spectacular action set-pieces, as well as some emotional character stuff after Murtaugh kills a kid in a street shoot-out. It all feels a bit by-the-numbers however - a bit of a cash-grab. The villains are a definite step-down, with corrupt ex-cop Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) making much less of an impact than Gary Busy or Joss Ackland. One thing the film does get right is the introduction or new character Lorna Cole (Rene Russo). Sure, when it boils down to it she's just another new love interest for Riggs, but unlike pointless plot device Patsy Kensit, Cole is good match for Riggs: she has strength, she takes no shit, she is every bit as badass as he is, and she can only help to reign in Riggs' wilder tendencies. She's a character in her own right and she compliments him rather than being there to simply drive plot forward.

New addition Lorna Cole is more than a match for Riggs.
Franchise finale Lethal Weapon 4 is on a par with 3, perhaps even slightly worse. This time
there are babies, because hey, something's gotta happen, right? Lorna and Riggs are expecting, as is Murtaugh's eldest daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe), only Roger doesn't know who the father is yet. Despite treating Leo like shit and acting like they hate him, they still seem to hang out with him quite a lot, which is a bit weird, but hey, he's funny so why not? (A lot of stuff about this franchise doesn't make much sense when you think about it.) He's joined by additional comic relief in the shape of Detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock). The writing is lazier than it's ever been before on the franchise in this fourth part - much of Butters' lines and Rock's delivery is like he's delivering a stand-up routine - undeniably funny, but doesn't help with the old suspension of disbelief. There is, however, a nice touch when it's Riggs who finally begins to feel 'too old for this shit', which makes for one of those great character moments Gibson and Glover do so well - thousands of shitty rom-coms would kill for this kind of long-running chemistry.

They think they have him. They really, really don't.
The case they're trying to crack this time is hideously complex - a group of Triads are importing slaves to work on a counterfeiting operation to buy four imprisoned crime lords back from a corrupt general. Only, far more elaborate. Luckily, the glowering presence of super badass Jet Li as nasty Triad Wah Sing Ku allows you to put much of that to one side and instead focus on a once-more formidable foe after part 3's damp squib. In terms of both action, comedy and chemistry between the two leads the later films are up there with the first two, but they are sorely lacking in some way it is hard to define, but might be put down to nothing more than a lack of Shane Black. It’s just painful to see these two characters become nothing more than parodies of their once-great selves. In particular, it is the final line of part 4, with the entire cast saying "We’re family!" to the camera that really makes me cringe.

On the whole, well loved, but I'm glad the once mooted part 5 never materialised, allowing Riggs and Murtaugh to go out with what little dignity they had left.

Lethal Weapon: 8/10
Lethal Weapon 2: 7/10
Lethal Weapon 3: 6/10
Lethal Weapon 4: 6/10

It seems my thoughts on this patchy but enjoyable franchise are largely shared by others - see these reviews of Lethal Weapon from Roger Ebert, Lethal Weapon 2 from Guy at Den of Geek, Lethal Weapon 3 from Brian at Variety and Lethal Weapon 4 from Josh.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Year: 1997
Running time: 93 minutes
Certificate: U
Language: English
Screenplay: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don McEnery, Bob Shaw, Irene Mecchi
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring (voices): Tate Donovan, Susan Egan, Josh Keaton, Roger Bart, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Matt Frewer, Rip Torn, Samantha Eggar

"I'm a damsel. I'm in distress. I can handle this. Have a nice day."
An underrated entry into the Disney Classics range, Hercules is a lot more fun than its reputation suggests. King of the gods Zeus (Rip Torn) is celebrating the birth of his newly born baby Hercules with his wife Hera (Samantha Eggar) and all of the other gods on Mount Olympus when Hades, god of the underworld (James Woods) turns up to wish the little tyke well in his own special way. Meaning planning his murder. Failing evil overlord 101 however, he entrusts the deed to his clearly useless underlings, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwaite) and Panic (Matt Frewer), who, true to form, screw it up. Abducting baby Hercules they fail to feed him all of the poison specially brewed to make him mortal (all but the final drop), and he retains his godlike strength.

Thus, we have a nice little set up for our man to grow up and go on a quest to become a true hero and reclaim his place among the gods. Dismissed by his peers with mutters of "Jerkules", called a freak by adults when he's unable to control his strength, his adoptive parents explain how they found him and off he goes to find Philoctetes ("Call me Phil") (Danny DeVito) on the advice of his real dad. Phil is convinced by a well-placed lightning bolt to train Hercules in the way of the hero. Needless to say, our hero saves the day, prevents Hades' hostile takeover and learns that selflessness is the true meaning of heroism, but we don't half have some laughs along the way.

"Uh, guys? Olympus, would be that way."
The writing and voice acting is sharp and has boundless energy – particularly James Woods as Hades, playing him relentlessly sarcastic and quick to anger (his hair, after all, is made of fire). The humour has a dry wit not often seen in Disney fare, with some great lines, brilliantly delivered, for example when our hero first meets Meg (Susan Egan), Hercules' refreshingly competent love interest, the line “Thanks for everything Herc. It’s been a real slice”, is positively dripping with a self-assured dismissal of this lunk-headed man come to rescue her.

In addition, the style of animation is unique amongst Disney Classics, being conceptualised by English animator Gerald Scarfe, marking it out amongst its peers in a really effective way. Two thumbs way, way up.

Score: 7/10

There are good and bad reviews out there for Hercules - see this one from Entertainment Weekly for a good, and this one from James for a bad. This is not really surprising considering its middle of the pack spot in Disney's Classics range.