'Lethal Weapon': THR's 1987 Review
On March 6, 1987, Warner Bros.' R-rated buddy-cop drama Lethal Weapon, pairing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, opened in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
Lethal Weapon has got a full chamber: Mel Gibson is starring, Eric Clapton performing, Los Angeles backdropping. It's loaded up with other hotshot elements as well. A cop thriller, this one's got all the grooves notched for a sure hit. But when the b.o. report comes back from the lab, Warner Bros. is likely to see that this seemingly sure-fire has scored much further from the box-office bull's-eye than it had anticipated. Still, based on Gibson's wild and steely lead performance, it's likely to knock down substantial box office.
Gibson stars as a walking wounded, an L.A. narcotics cop on the edge of suicide. Bounced down to homicide, he's teamed up with a cautious veteran (Danny Glover) who's just hit 50. Glover can't figure out if Gibson's just acting crazy to get a psycho pension or if he's really nuts.
In any event, Glover's in no mood to get killed through any of Gibson's fearless, nutcase heroics. About the only thing they have in common is that they're Vietnam vets.
Packing some hard action scenes and boasting some traditional buddy banter, Lethal Weapon hits all the right marks; in fact there's hardly a genre mark it doesn't nail, from the opening sequence of a scantily clad blonde jumping from a ledge to a finale knockdown with a commando-like drug thug (Gary Busey).
Screenwriter Shane Black obviously knows his way around the L.A. cop story beat, and has intelligently woven classic noir themes and ingredients into Lethal Weapon. It's a murky and dazzling milieu, but, unfortunately, while Black's assembled all the parts, he's not locked in the conflict early enough, and the good scenes simply aren't enough good to make up for the plot's too-late lock.
The atmosphere, the buddy stuff and the flashy setting don't make up for the fact that the main story is too distanced throughout much of the movie. Further diluting the film's intensity is the scene structuring; far too often lame expository scenes serve to advance the plot or explain the backstory. Even those somewhat camouflaged by pseudo-action (target practice, etc.) don't compensate for the less-than-lethal script.
There are some high-power scenes, however, especially, when Gibson's devil-may-care depression makes him fearless and understandably alarming to scumballs and crazies. But even these seem to be generic cutouts, variations and permutations of other noir scenes and themes.
Although talky, the banter itself never really jells. It's gruffly affectionate and engaging but pales in comparison to both 48 HRS and Running Scared. Still, it's generally superior dialogue, and carried off quite well by Gibson and Glover.
As the frazzled cop, Gibson is flat-out sensational. Wild-eyed and pensive, he's coiled throughout. It's a truly explosive performance. As his pillar of the community partner, Glover's convincing in his role of concerned father and conscientious cop, while Busey's guttural sneers and deadly glares make him a chilling villain. As Glover's foxy teen daughter who's understandably smitten by Gibson, Traci Wolfe brings a fine and appropriately blushing awkwardness to the part. Among the supporting players, Gustav Vintas stands out ... as a chilly-eyed menace.
Throughout, director Richard Donner pulls out all the stops — you can bet every car careening out of control will hit a fire hydrant — and keeps the story moving as fast as the script allows.
The photography of Stephen Goldblatt is a particular textural highlight, capturing the surface elegance as well as the hellacious decadence of L.A. The music by Michael Kamen and Clapton adds some rousing and hard-charged sounds, as does Donner's use of traditional Christmas songs to counterpoint the gore. Other technical contributions ring true. — Duane Byrge, originally published on March 2, 1987