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Lethal Weapon 3 Ruined A Great Franchise In Mere Minutes

For my money, Lethal Weapons 1 and 2 are at the pinnacle of the modern action genre, a perfect one, two punch. The original Lethal Weapon invented the modern template for the buddy/cop film and made stars out of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Lethal Weapon 2 is arguably one of the few sequels to best the original. Joe Pesci resurrected his career with an Oscar worthy performance and we also got some of the most hissable villains in action film history. Best of all, it did what too few sequels actually do; instead of retreading the first film, it continued the story of these characters and took them in new directions. I love these two films.

I tell you this because you need some context for the vitriol I have for Lethal Weapon 3. I saw Lethal Weapon 3 on it's opening night, May 15th 1992. Perhaps because of youth, I lacked the intellectual tools at the time to fully express what I felt when it was over. I remember being mostly numb. I know now it was disbelief I was feeling. Summer movies were what I lived for back then. I couldn't let it in. I didn't want to admit what I knew deep down. This was a very bad movie. They had fumbled the ball. Like fumbled in such a catastrophic way that the other team somehow ran it back for five simultaneous touchdowns and killed everyone in the stadium. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to watch this movie and admit, very likely out loud, “Wow! This movie fucking sucks really hard!” And I normally wouldn’t care at all, except…this was a Lethal Weapon movie.

It’s literally the opening scene where it goes horribly wrong. Riggs and Murtaugh arrive at a call. There’s a bomb in an office building. However, the police have already secured the scene, evacuated the necessary parties and the bomb squad is en route. Murtaugh agrees it’s under control and turns to leave. But Riggs really wants to try and defuse this bomb. He insists, even. So they go inside and in spite of Murtaugh’s repeated warnings, Riggs tries to defuse the bomb and fails. They flee the building as it collapses in spectacular fashion. There was no reason for this scene save to show that the makers of Lethal Weapon had completely forgotten how to make a Lethal Weapon movie. This is a bad SNL parody. Yes, Riggs has always been a little reckless, a little wild, maybe lets his anger get the better of him at times. His behavior would sometimes straddle the line of common sense but you always understood that he had a reason for his unothodox methods. This is him just being a fucking idiot. There is no logical reason for him to want to defuse this bomb and risk depriving his best friend's family of a father. It's a formerly badass character doing something childish. It's done for laughs and it's done at the expense of our main character's credibility. Yeah, watching a building collapse is impressive. Did you really need to collapse the series' carefully balanced tone along with it just to have your big opener? You could have easily shuffled events so that Riggs and Murtaugh are forced to go in. Maybe there are still people in the building and the bomb squad won’t get there in time. Riggs’ Special Forces experience (he knows his mercury switches, "artwork, fucking artwork") makes him the most qualified to take a stab. Then you can have your grabber and Riggs is still the character we know and love and the movie maintains a relatively adult sensibility. Instead, in the opening scene you've made Lethal Weapon into a parody of itself.

How much of a parody? Riggs and Murtaugh are busted down to traffic duty because of the bomb debacle. So we're very clearly not taking these characters seriously anymore. You could say it’s the likely outcome of events and it is. It's just that it's more Police Academy than Lethal Weapon, that's all. The tone of the film is now so wildly fucked it's comparable to the black sheepishness of Beverly Hills Cop 3. Except they had an excuse there. Unlike that film, Lethal Weapon 3 has mostly the same creative team as the first two.

So, Riggs and Murtaugh are now cutting parking tickets. Riggs sees a man jaywalking and decides he needs to mess with him. To make a long story short, things progress to the point where Riggs pulls his gun on the guy for arguing his ticket at which point Murtaugh tells the man his partner is crazy and he should run. The guy does. And they have a hearty laugh about pulling a gun on an unarmed, non-violent civilian. It's just plain brainless and off the mark of anything resembling human behavior let alone the behavior of these characters. It's not funny and it's extremely lazy. Riggs actually says, "We can make it look like suicide!" But also, given what was going on in the world at the time, it's a bit offensive as well. This film came out a little over two weeks after the LA Riots. A scene of an LAPD officer pulling his gun on a jaywalker and then threatening to kill him and make it look like suicide is in pour taste. Police brutality is seldom funny, especially with the comedic ass storm on display here. Maybe less so right after whole city rioted over that very thing.

It's rare for a movie to recover after such a carefully orchestrated mission to blast itself in the balls. This movie does not recover. We go right from Riggs menacing civilians to hanging off an armored car while Murtaugh follows in another armored car driven by a stereotypical, big, randy, black woman who tries to molest him the whole time. Even worse, right after this scene they get their Sargeant ranks back. Thus rendering the whole bomb debacle/demotion/balls blasting completely unnecessary. I really could keep going through each successive scene and detailing how it shits on everything good and decent but I shouldn't belabor this anymore. At the same time, I just can’t let it go, so I'll hit on some broader flaws.

You know how bad action sequels will simply repeat the same things you liked last time? You liked Joe Pesci in the second one? Well you got him again. He's shoehorned in here even though no one found a way to make him a part of the plot. He shows up at random for no other reason than for Riggs and Murtaugh to pull strangely sociopathic pranks on him. Also, Riggs pops his arm out of it's socket again. Remember that part in the second one when Riggs demonstrated that he could do this at will and then it saved his life at a key moment? Well, you get to see him do it again. Except this time he just kind of does it. I guess because he's crazy.

For the record, Stuart Wilson is a fine actor. It's not his fault. But a good action film lives and dies by it's villains. After the second movie's racist, mass policeman murdering, Mrs. Riggs killing, possible future Mrs. Riggs drowning, Apartheid loving South African diplomats, you need to come correct if you want to top that. Wilson's illegal gun-selling cop does not. But boy does the movie try to convince you otherwise. He sells guns to kids! And one of those kids turns out to be Murtaugh’s son’s friend! We meet him for a few seconds to establish him as a plot point. Murtaugh has to shoot him later and gets all broken up about it. Several scenes after this, Murtaugh callously chucks an ax into a guy without batting an eye, but I guess that guy was never a guest in his house. But that's not even the worst attempt at drumming up hissability for the bad guy. That comes in the character of some eager, young beat cop who our heroes keep bumping into. I don’t even remember his name. I'm not sure he had one. His sole purpose is to get killed by Evil Cop at just the right moment and give Riggs a reason to get even. In the previous film, you got his dead wife, his dead new girlfriend and several dead colleagues for motivation. Here you get Officer…s…umm…

I've always liked Rene Russo. I would even say it's a feat to make her unlikable. But her internal affairs cop is so overbearingly cartoonish in her tough demeanor that I couldn’t buy anyone putting up with being in the same room with her let alone falling in love with her. It was 1992. I guess we were still figuring out how to depict tough women on screen. So she’s given lots of fight scenes to show how tough she really is. Except if you establish a character as basically invincible, her fight scenes will be really boring unless there’s some cool choreography. There isn't. I guess the filmmakers were afraid to show a woman get hit so her fights consist of her completely dominating multiple opponents. They simply walk up to her and let her kick them, apparently having learned how to fight from the Kung Fu Nintendo game. There’s two or three of these fight scenes. I lost count after the first one. I never feared for her safety as she was obviously never in any danger. At one point even Riggs just stands back and simply watches.

Which leads into probably the biggest flaw. No one bothered to come up with a notable action scene in this entire movie. I really couldn’t describe one of them in any detail. The aforementioned fight scenes don't count because there's nothing to describe. I’m not kidding. I really can’t of one. I could describe every action scene in the first two and I can even tell you why the characters were in those situations. I can't say that with this one. It's all random and seems made up on the spot.

It gives me a headache to think about this movie. Lethal Weapon 3 is terrible. As for Lethal Weapon 4, well...That highway chase was cool, probably the most impressively staged sequence in the series and the fight scene at the end with Jet Li is impressively brutal. It's not saying much but I'd say it's better than 3. Then again so is Riding in Cars With Boys.

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