1987 Movie Review: LETHAL WEAPON, 1987

Movie Reviews

Directed by Richard Donner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitch Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe
Review by Andrew Kosarko


Two tough Los Angeles cops, one who carries a lethal weapon (Glover) and the other who is one (Gibson), are teamed as partners in a highly unusual case involving a massive international ring which has its roots in Vietnam – a place they are both all too familiar with. This film, with its fresh, energetic combination of comedy, drama and action, has managed to spawn three highly successful sequels.


I had never seen the Lethal Weapon films prior to reviewing them this week. Which, as I understand it, is grounds for having my man card revoked. Nevertheless, of course I enjoyed the films, but it’s not without it’s criticisms.

The Story: The film hits the reset button on the “buddy cop” genre, if not creating it all together. The odd couple dynamic is the focus for the first hour of the film, with little coming out of the plot to actually have an overall effect on the outcome. Basically it’s 50 minutes of the film telling us “Riggs is crazy” and “Murtaugh is “too old for this shit.” It’s only once the film gets to an hour into it does it start going anywhere. That’s my biggest criticism of the film. Usually, character driven films are what everyone wants, and don’t misunderstand me, the creation of these characters is what makes the film great and the franchise sustainable. But there are better ways to go about it. Now once it gets into the actual plot, it becomes extremely interesting. The ties to these characters back stories and their draw to see it through becomes deeply routed in the audience’s desire. That, mixed with the great characterization and explosions is how you make a entertaining film.

Acting: It’s really Mel Gibson’s movie to steal. And he does. It’s always the offbeat character that everyone loves the most. But Glover provides a sturdy straight man (in terms of characterization – not sexual orientation…just to be clear.) The lack of problem here is while Gary Busey is menacing, he’s somewhat underused in this film and doesn’t get much play. While it did reinvigorate his career, there’s really not a whole lot going on there. In the end, it’s Riggs that keeps the movie going when it starts to lull in the action.

Directing: Richard Donner does a great job for what it’s worth. He made a successful film that launched a franchise. However, he is guilty of 80’s stylistic value. Ain’t no dodging that one.

Cinematography: While it doesn’t have the soft focus of the 80’s style (thank the Lord above) it does have the same old fog machine look on occasion. Some of the action scenes are shot a little too tight for my taste, but they work. And again, there is some guilty 80’s moments with the slo-motion shot to death scenes.

Production Design: 1986. Again…not a whole lot more to be said there.

Editing: Here’s, once again, where my criticism lies. There’s too much character setup in the first hour. It becomes filler to be honest. We could deal with one or two short situations that establish Riggs is crazy and Murtaugh is too old. But we get it drawn out in several long scenes that just cover fill up time. It could have been tighter.

Score: Now while most of the action scenes are scored with the stereotypical 80’s classical score (no synthesizers thank the Lord yet again haha) the drama and comedy are scored with this saxophone type style. Which works very much for the buddy-cop tone of the film and is repeated in the sequels. It establishes an overall character to the franchise itself. A smart move on the part of the film makers that paid off for the long run.

Special Effects: it’s the 80’s….stuff blows up….it really blew up. Haha. Simple as that.

In closing: In my honest opinion, the film is dated and overrated. Does that mean it doesn’t stand well on it’s own feet? Not at all. It’s an enjoyable movie. But there could have been so much more going on. It was fresh for it’s time and that’s why it’s so highly rated. So now that we’ve spent one hour on characters and one hour on a plot, let’s see how the sequel fares up….

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