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Lethal Weapon 4

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Lethal Weapon 4

Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover
Director: Richard Donner
Rated: R
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Action, Comedy

*Also starring: Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Steve Kahan, Kim Chan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

From the moment its rush production was announced, media and industry pundits immediately pegged _Lethal_Weapon_4_ as a disaster waiting to happen. What these naysayers had forgotten was that the _Lethal_ series is not one of the most successful action franchises in film history for nothing, delivering all the requisite slam-bang thrills with appealing actors and a generous dose of humor. The _Lethal_s have a set formula, to be certain, but even in this fourth go-round, the magic and charm is definitely still there.

One of the reasons some had doubts about _Lethal_4_ is a bloated cast, which had sunk last year's fourth entry in another successful Warner Bros. franchise, the _Batman_ series. And though the ongoing cast additions that have characterized the _Lethal_ series have proven successful in previous installments, on paper, it appeared that the core had reached critical mass in _Lethal_4_. The original's odd couple cop duo of wild and wacky Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and straightlaced family man Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) successfully became a trio with the addition of motormouthed money launderer Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) in _Lethal_2_; that three made an improbably seamless transition to four with _Lethal_3_'s introduction of daredevil Internal Affairs officer Lorna Cole (Rene Russo), the female "lethal weapon." To bring the core ensemble to five is a highly risky and impractical proposition, but screenwriter Channing Gibson (working from a story by Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar) and series director Richard Donner decided to add wet-behind-the-ears cop Lee Butters (Chris Rock) into the mix. Initially, the strain of accommodating a large ensemble shows. After an entertaining curtain-raising action scene involving Riggs and Murtaugh's encounter with a flamethrower-wielding maniac comes the lengthy introductions/reintroductions of the rest of the cast: not only Leo, Lorna, and Butters, but also those who have lingered in the background throughout the entire series: police captain Ed Murphy (Steve Kahan), police psychologist Stephanie Woods (Mary Ellen Trainor), Murtaugh's wife Trish (Darlene Love), their daughters Rianne (Traci Wolfe) and Carrie (Ebonie Smith), and son Nick (Damon Hines).

However, what could have easily become tedious for fans of the series and even newcomers is made enjoyable by what has become one of the _Lethal_ series' trademarks: humor (it is ironic that the rather dark Shane Black-penned original, in which Riggs was despondent and suicidal, gradually evolved into an action comedy series). The seemingly misguided addition of Butters also proves to be a fairly effective one. Known to everyone except Murtaugh, Butters is the father of Rianne's unborn child _and_ her secret husband, which creates some predictable but no less funny comedy of misunderstanding (Murtaugh interprets Butters's attention and devotion to be something a bit deeper). Butters's most notable contribution, though, is serving as a formidable F-word-sparring partner for Leo, whose new occupation as a private investigator (!) more comfortably works him into the story than his real estate agent status in _Lethal_3_.

So what exactly _is_ the story? After our intrepid detective duo, both now promoted to the rank of captain (a plot thread that doesn't particularly lead anywhere), along with Leo, stumble upon a shipload of illegal Chinese immigrants, they find out about a dastardly plan orchestrated by an Asian Triad leader (Hong Kong action legend Jet Li, making his American debut). That's pretty much it, but the lack of story is more than compensated by the presence of a terrific villain, the absence of which was _Lethal 3_'s biggest problem. Though his work here isn't quite at the level as that of his Hong Kong works such as the _Once_Upon_a_Time_in_China_ series, Li's high-flying martial arts (choreographed by, among others, HK film director Corey Yuen) displays are simply astounding, and he pulls of the none-too-easy task of stealing the show; if Li's ecstatic crowd reaction at the preview screening is any indication, he will become an immediate audience favorite, paving the way for a bright Hollywood future.

With such a large cast, someone is bound to get short shrift, and the victim here, unfortunately, is Russo. Lorna was by far _Lethal_3_'s most inspired element, a Riggs love interest that was every bit his equal. This time around, however, Lorna is just about cleansed of the machisma that made her so popular. In a simply dumb move, the writing crew knocked her up with Riggs's child, thus removing her from nearly all of the action. Although she is given one (way too brief) fight scene, in effect she is made into what Patsy Kensit played in _Lethal_2_--a token "girl" for Riggs. Lorna is never more sorely missed than in the climax; although Butters is an amusing character, he doesn't click nearly as well as the third partner because he doesn't quite hold his own in the action scenes.

Despite its flaws, what sells _Lethal_Weapon_4_ is the action, and between a spectacular midfilm freeway chase to Li's amazing acrobatics, it is definitely the thrill ride to beat this summer. The film closes with a photo album montage of cast and crew photos culled from all four _Lethal_s, almost as if to close the book on the series. But if Donner and company can keep the _Lethal_ films as fun as all four have been, then there will be plenty more images to add to the album in the future. As the film's final line goes, "We're family," and after four wildly exciting entertainments, audiences will feel (if they don't already) the same way about these characters and will want to return to them in the years to come.

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