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Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner

CAST:

Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor

REVIEW:

Stepping off the launching pad of 1987’s Lethal Weapon , 1989’s Lethal Weapon 2 is an entirely worthy sequel that in many ways actually improves on the first installment while keeping all of the same qualities.  The action is bigger and more audacious, the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover is as great as ever, and the addition of Joe Pesci adds a third spoke to the wheel that freshens things up instead of simply retreading the Riggs-Murtaugh bickering from the first film. Rare for a sequel, Lethal Weapon 2 feels just as fresh, or maybe even more so, than the original.

The plot once again has the unlikely team of daredevil Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and strait-laced Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who have formed into an effective partnership, uncovering a plot involving drug dealing and money laundering, this time headed by an oily South African diplomat, Arjen Rudd (the oh-so-easy-to-despise Joss Ackland), who relishes reminding them that he has “diplomatic immunity” and cannot be touched no matter what. But in that way they have of stumbling across things almost by accident, Riggs and Murtaugh are charged with babysitting a money launderer turned government witness, Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), who turns out to have a connection to the South African crime ring. And of course, the deeper their investigation gets, the more serious the threats from Rudd and his henchman Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor) will get.

Everything that was true of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the first Lethal Weapon is just as true here.  The only slight differences are that Gibson has mostly lost the vestiges of an Aussie accent that were occasionally noticeable in the first movie, and Riggs is a somewhat better adjusted individual. He’s still manic and gleefully death-defying, but he’s come back from the edge a bit. Gibson and Glover fit together like two comfortable old friends, with the effortless rapport between them clear from the second the movie begins. Both the invention of the character of Leo Getz, and the casting of the boundlessly energetic Joe Pesci, was inspired. While the exclusive pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh could have threatened to retread old material, the introduction of Getz guarantees things stay fresh. Pesci is perfectly-cast as the manic, fast-talking witness (he has a profane rant about drive-thrus that is both hilarious, and relatable), and there’s something strangely lovable about him despite all his obnoxiousness (not to mention that he’s a money launderer). In an odd way, sleazy annoying Leo endears himself to us in the same way he grudgingly does to Riggs and Murtaugh; we don’t want him to get shot.

The bad guys are memorably sinister, too, and have more screentime than the ones in the first film. It’s hard to ask for an actor who’s better at oozing slime than Joss Ackland.  He exudes repugnance, and his smug declaration of “diplomatic immunity” is as guaranteed to generate hisses and boos as Murtaugh’s reply is to draw cheers and applause.  He’s backed up well by Derrick O’Connor, who’s equally menacing as his smoothly vicious henchman, and together Rudd and Vorstedt are a deliciously hissable pair of baddies.  Patsy Kensit plays another South African consulate worker who strikes up a romance with Riggs but learns romancing action heroes comes at your own risk, and supporting players like Darlene Love and Traci Wolfe as Murtaugh’s wife and daughter, Steve Kahan as the exasperated police chief, and Mary Ellen Trainor as the psychiatrist determined that Riggs is an unstable menace all return, ensuring a feel of seamless continuity. Mark Rolston has a small opening role as one of the South Africans.

About the only way Lethal Weapon 2 is dated is in its anti-apartheid commentary and use of white South African officials as villains (although they’re a little more original than those most reliable and oft-used screen baddies, Nazis and Soviets). The action scenes are bigger and badder than before, with memorable bits including a car chase that includes Riggs hanging onto the front of the truck and a surfboard through a windshield, a boobytrapped toilet, Riggs’ beach trailer attacked by helicopter gunships, a hand-to-hand duel between Riggs and Vorstedt, and a house on stilts that (of course) comes crashing down.

Lethal Weapon 2 includes all of the same attributes as Lethal Weapon, only more magnified: the Gibson-Glover chemistry is every bit as good, the action is bigger, the humor is brighter (the lion’s share courtesy of welcome newcomer Pesci), the bad guys are more memorable, and any who enjoyed the first movie should have at least as good of a time with the second.

***

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