March 2021

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner


Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Rene Russo, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kim Chan


Lethal Weapon 4 is a classic example of a sequel that was assembled to make money, not because of necessity or because there was even anywhere particularly fresh to take the story. There were rumors of its production since 1992, but development only rushed full-steam ahead once the reluctant Mel Gibson was convinced to return with a massive paycheck. In retrospect, no one should have bothered. Lethal Weapon 3 wasn’t as good as the first or second installment, but it would have been a much better place to end the popular series than this. Lethal Weapon 4 is a mess of a movie, a big, bloated, unwieldy, sputtering, past-its-prime cash grab that has a few entertaining moments scattered around but not enough to justify its existence, and creaks as badly as aging action heroes Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s joints.

The movie follows the standard Lethal Weapon sequel formula. Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh(Danny Glover), along with the now P.I. Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) stumble across a crime ring importing Chinese illegal aliens to be used as slave labor. The ring is headed by Chinatown crime boss “Uncle Benny” (Kim Chan), and the enigmatic but deadly Ku (Jet Li). Meanwhile, domestic soap opera ensues as Riggs’ girlfriend Lorna (Rene Russo) is pregnant and Riggs faces his own reluctance to remarry, and Murtaugh’s daughter (Traci Wolfe) is also pregnant, by obnoxious young cop Lee Butters (Chris Rock). Of course, action-comedy (or a rather feeble facsimile thereof) ensues.

Lethal Weapon 4 opens with the most over-the-top action sequence of the series, as Riggs and Murtaugh take on a man on a rampage through the streets wearing an armor suit that makes him look like a cross between Boba Fett and Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, armed with a flamethrower and an automatic rifle. It’s silly, and already showing the tip the scales have taken into excessive fatuousness, but alas it’s a more entertaining beginning than most of what comes after. Other than that, there’s not much memorable action, other than a few standard chases, fistfights, and shootouts. For the first time, it’s occasionally noticeable that Mel Gibson does not do all of his own stunts (whether or not he did before, the filmmakers kept us from being able to tell). When Jet Li is on hand, there’s a few nifty moves, but that’s about it. The movie’s biggest problem is that it engages in entirely too much goofiness, tipping the scales heavily toward the second part of “action-comedy”, with only sporadically effective results. There are funny bits here and there, but the movie is also bloated with awkward, unfunny scenes that drag on, as if the cast and filmmakers were being self-indulgent.

Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, and Rene Russo regroup like genial old friends having a (big, loud, crowded, meandering) family reunion. In fact, much of Lethal Weapon 4 feels like an excuse to get back together one last time and have some fun. For a fair amount of the time, the cast seems to be having more fun goofing around together than we have watching them (the same “we don’t really care, we’re just hanging out and having fun” self-indulgent aimlessness of the two Ocean’s Eleven sequels). Joe Pesci’s loud-mouthed Leo Getz, who was hilarious in the second film, started to wear out his welcome in the third movie, and now his shtick is really starting to wear thin. He is occasionally funny, but like the series itself, it’s getting very old. The token “fresh new face” is Chris Rock, but while Joe Pesci and Rene Russo both effectively served to freshen things up, at least in their initial outings, Rock sticks out like a sore thumb. Rene Russo is given hardly nothing to do besides walk around with a pregnant belly. The only cast member who maintains his dignity is Hong Kong superstar Jet Li, who radiates such a cool, dangerous demeanor that he seems like he’s out of a different (probably better) movie. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s unflappable and lightning-quick, and we know he’s not someone we want to cross. Steve Kahan is back as Captain Murphy, and Kim Chan, a familiar Chinese-American face, supplies one of the movie’s funniest scenes via a laughing gas-aided interrogation.

In my review of Lethal Weapon 3, I said that while it lacked the freshness of the first and second in the series, it was not a chore to sit through. Lethal Weapon 4 unfortunately is, a muddled, tedious, awkward, self-indulgent cash grab that shouldn’t have been made. The spark of the first two films is by now well and truly extinguished. When Gibson and Glover (in one of the movie’s many goofy scenes) try to boost their self-esteem by repeatedly shouting “we’re not too old for this shit!”, we’re tempted to say, “yes, you are”.