"Crazy? You want to see crazy?"
"Lethal Weapon" fans will no doubt be delighted to see the whole series in one, big, high-definition, Blu-ray package, with a slew of extras besides. Let's look at all four of the movies, one at a time.
With a combination of antagonistic friendships, hard-edged violence, absurd plots, and sometimes macabre humor, Mel Gibson's "Lethal Weapon" in 1987 along with "48 Hours" a few years earlier practically reinvented the buddy movie. "Lethal Weapon" moves along at a frenetic pace, providing excitement galore, so long as you don't stop to think about it.
Gibson stars as L.A. Police Sgt. Martin Riggs, a cop who has become unhinged since the death of his wife in an automobile accident. In case you haven't seen the film, he is the "lethal weapon" of the title. His fellow officers think he's a psycho because he's suicidal, willing to sacrifice his life to get a job done, or in some cases just sacrifice his life. He's basically a slob, living alone in a trailer with only a dog for company, downing a beer for breakfast, and wallowing in the past. In this first in a series of four "Lethal Weapon" films now on Blu-ray, Riggs is more of a wild man than he is in the sequels, more earnestly nuts. A scene on a rooftop where he tries to save a man from jumping and another where he's busting some drug dealers have undoubtedly become classics.
The buddy angle is that Riggs gets unwillingly teamed up with his opposite on the force, a conservative family man named Roger Murtaugh, played by Danny Glover, a fellow celebrating his fiftieth birthday. The two take an instant dislike to one another, which in time, of course, turns into mutual admiration and then lifelong friendship. They become the "Odd Couple" of law enforcement.
Both men are Vietnam vets, but Riggs came back the more shattered by the experience. He says the one and only thing he's really good at is killing, and, indeed, he is an expert shot. In Riggs and Murtaugh's first day together, Riggs manages to shoot and kill somebody. As the film goes on, so does the body count.
One may safely ignore the plot, but in the event you've forgotten it, here's the deal. Gary Busey is a cold-blooded, psycho henchman named Mr. Joshua, an ex-Special Forces agent now working as a mercenary for a drug syndicate headed up by a former Vietnam general, Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan) and manned by ex-CIA operatives. Riggs and Murtaugh stumble onto their machinations, bullets fly, bodies fall, stuff blows up, people get tortured, and everything ends well in hand-to-hand combat between Riggs and Joshua.
The director of these "Lethal Weapon" flicks was Richard Donner, who gave us "Superman," "The Omen," "Goonies," and "16 Blocks" among many more. Together with screenwriter Shane Black, ("The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"), Donner keeps things moving at a pace that seldom allows one to breathe or a moment to reflect on how silly it all is.
Interestingly, as the sequels went on the filmmakers put more emphasis on humor than in this first movie. "Lethal Weapon" is fairly serious most of the way, despite the outlandish nature of the goings on. Yet, as ridiculous as the "Lethal Weapon" films are, the one endearing quality they all have in common is the relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh. Their friendship and repartee continue to delight and make even the most far-fetched action amusing and exciting. They're a good team and deserved their re-engagements.
Warner Brothers present the film in its original aspect ratio, 1.85:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec. The picture is fairly well detailed, if a little soft and dark, with decent clarity, especially in facial close-ups. When it's good, the high-def video can be quite good, and when it's not, it remains at least OK. It is a touch dark, as I say, and grainy in places, with a few scenes looking slightly dullish, but it isn't much to fret over. Black levels are deep, colors are solid, and for whatever reason the picture quality seems to get better as the movie progresses.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 acquits itself respectably, too. The surrounds display a few things like falling rain, crowd noises, musical ambience, gunfire, and grenade blasts, all of which have decent punch. The front-channel stereo separation is excellent, and the dynamic range is wide. What's more, overall transparency is good, even in the loudest climaxes like the several explosions that the movie serves up, with a taut, well-controlled bass. Although from time to time I heard a small degree of background hiss and found the upper midrange a trifle hard and forward, in general the audio sounds fine.
The extras include an audio commentary by director Richard Donner; fourteen scenes of additional footage totaling about thirty minutes; a music video by Honeymoon Suite; a widescreen theatrical trailer; twenty-three scene selections; and just about every spoken language, subtitle, and caption you can think of: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Polish, etc.
Film rating: 7/10
LETHAL WEAPON 2
I began to appreciate the "Lethal Weapon" movies more over the years, especially the first two, and this second installment in the series is probably the best one all-the-way around. Not only is it funnier, more exciting, and more action-packed than the others, it is among the best-looking, made all the better in its high-definition Blu-ray transfer. Welcome back, Sergeants Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) of the Los Angeles Police Department.
This time we find the "odd couple" of police work involved in a story just as thrilling as the first venture if a tad more cartoonish in its execution. The pair have a better adversary, though. He's a racist South African villain named Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland), a Minister of Diplomatic Affairs who hides behinds his diplomatic immunity to smuggle gold and launder money. And his chief henchman, Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Conner), turns out to be even more evil than we initially believe, a plot twist I won't reveal. Riggs's love interest is the Minister's secretary, the lovely Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit). Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be this hero's girlfriend.
In the event your memory is a little fuzzy on the various movies in the series (there were four of them, remember, all directed by Richard Donner), this is the one where Murtaugh's house and his wife's car get destroyed. This is the one that introduced us to everybody's favorite creep, Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a character who made such a positive impact on audiences that the filmmakers brought him back for the third and fourth episodes. Getz is a crooked bookkeeper that the police are keeping in the government's witness protection program until he can testify against some hoods. Riggs and Murtaugh get assigned to protect him, and, wouldn't you know it, they discover he is somehow connected with the evil South African diplomat. This is the one where Murtaugh's daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe), debuts on a television commercial for condoms, totally discombobulating old dad. This is also the one that has Murtaugh sitting on an exploding toilet seat.
Richard Donner again directs with a frenetic pace, now leavened by even more funny business. Riggs is still the maniac he always was, but he's not quite so self-destructive as before. How crazy is he? The department takes bets on how quickly he can escape from a straightjacket.
Things start right out with a snippet of WB's Looney Tunes theme, followed by Riggs acting nuts as he and Murtaugh get caught up in a wild, high-speed pursuit of baddies. At one point, Riggs is actually on foot chasing a speeding BMW, and he almost catches it! A routine drug bust turns into helicopters, automatic weapons, and Krugerrands.
One last thing: "Lethal Weapon 2" is more unnecessarily harsh in terms of people dying, more brutal than the other entries in the series. Although a person may find this a turnoff in what is otherwise a lighthearted adventure, it isn't enough to dampen one's enthusiasm for the film in general. While you may find the movie overdone, to be sure, you'll probably have to admit the lead characters are endearing. Overall, I found the exaggerated thrills of the series becoming a bit tiring after this second installment, but this one is the best balanced in terms of excitement and humor.
The most obvious difference between this second adventure and the first one in the series is the improvement in picture and sound of the original prints. Whereas the filmmakers shot the first "Lethal Weapon" in a 1.85:1 ratio, they made "Lethal Weapon 2" in a much wider 2.40:1 ratio, transferred here to Blu-ray using a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 codec. The wider screen is better because it presents a much broader vision of the action. More important, however, the colors in "Lethal Weapon 2" are brighter, cleaner, crisper, and better defined in than in the first film, if still a little soft. The hues are brilliant and alive, very deep against the excellent black levels. One notices a touch of soft grain, no doubt inherent to the film stock and providing a realistic texture to the image. If I have any minor reservation, it's that the picture continues to be slightly on the dark side, with facial tones suffering the most, especially during indoor shots. Otherwise, this is a fine, vibrant high-definition transfer.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound is well focused and wide ranging, with extremely wide dynamics and a well-extended high end. Bass could probably be deeper and carry more impact though. The sound provides excellent front-channel width and an adequate, if not entirely up-to-date surround field. However, do expect some musical ambience enhancement and bullets flying in all directions.
The primary bonuses include a commentary by Richard Donner again; a brief, four-minute featurette, "Stunts and Action"; three extended or deleted scenes, also totaling about four minutes; and a widescreen theatrical trailer. The extras conclude with more language choices than ever and thirty-nine scene selections.
Film rating: 7/10
LETHAL WEAPON 3
By the time Warner Bros. made "Lethal Weapon 3" in 1992, the formula was wearing thin. In fact, the plot and action are sillier than ever. There is no longer even a pretense of logic for the goings on, merely explosions far and wide, guns blasting in every direction, and policeman punching first and asking questions later. The film again teams law enforcement officers Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) with the weaselly Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), only now newcomer Lorna Cole (Renee Russo) joins them as Riggs's romantic interest.
Murtaugh, who always seems to be on the verge of retirement, is just eight days away. He's looking forward to his final hours being peaceful and uneventful. But with a crazy man like Riggs for a partner, we know that isn't going to happen. As Murtaugh rightfully maintains throughout the story, "I'm too old for this!" I think we all are. The two men are fast friends these days, but they bicker more than ever; they even have a fist fight. When the story opens, the powers-that-be are busting them down to patrolmen for blowing up a building. No sooner are they on the beat than they stop a bank robbery, battle a bevy of baddies, and become involved in a high-speed pursuit involving two armored cars. Go figure.
This entry in the series is not so much energetic as it is hectic. Everywhere Riggs and Murtaugh go, every step they take, somebody is shooting to kill someone else. The villain is a former cop named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), now turned bad and smuggling guns. Leo has become a real estate agent, of all things, trying to peddle Murtaugh's house for the cop's imminent retirement. Leo's behavior with the two men most of the time resembles something out of a "Three Stooges" short, perhaps appropriate considering that the old comedians are Riggs's favorite entertainers. Finally, the love interest, Cole, is a sergeant in the police force's Internal Affairs Division and a karate expert to boot. No, you're not supposed to believe any of this. Indeed, under Richard Donner's relentless direction, you're not even allowed a moment to think about it.
Number three isn't as bad as number four would be a few years later, but it's not the flagship of the line, either. If you are already a fan of the "Lethal Weapon" series, you will already have made up your mind about favorites. If you are just testing the waters, I suggest starting with "Lethal Weapon 2"; it's not as brutal or hard-edged as number one but not as absurd as numbers three or four. What's more, number two looks and sounds the best.
The picture size for "Lethal Weapon 3" is the same Panavision scope it was for the second film, 2.40:1, and the actual image quality is about the same. However, by a small margin, colors are not quite as bright or well defined. Still, the picture, transferred to a BD50 using a VC-1 codec, is better than in film number one.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound is deeper than ever, not pinpoint accurate in the rear channels but wide and dynamic in the front.
Insofar as bonus items are concerned, we get another commentary by Richard Donner; three scenes of additional footage, about four minutes; and a teaser and theatrical trailer, the former in non-anamorphic widescreen and the latter in pan-and-scan. The extras wrap with thirty scene selections, and lots and lots of spoken language, subtitle, and caption choices.
Film rating: 6/10
LETHAL WEAPON 4
Some things should just be left alone, and the "Lethal Weapon" series should have ended after the second installment. But we got two more, each of them successively weaker. With "Lethal Weapon 4" we find the silliest and most sentimental of the bunch.
By the fourth round, the movie had become more comedy than thrills, with little interest in human development or interpersonal relationships and simply more bickering among the main characters. More things blow up, more car chases end up in Neverland, and more people get shot. It's overblown and loud, with only an occasional hint of originality.
The setting is 1998, and Riggs has finally gotten his hair cut. He is also about to become a father with his live-in girlfriend, Lorna (Rene Russo). For the first time, Riggs is feeling his age: After our listening to Murtaugh exclaim for the umpteenth time he's "getting too old for this shit," we finally hear Riggs admit it, too.
Murtaugh, who claimed he was ready to retire almost a dozen years earlier in the first movie, still hasn't retired and doesn't appear to have any intension of retiring. Apparently, he's ageless. The filmmakers also allow him to take his shirt off and bare his chest, twice. He's about to become a grandfather. And he takes in an illegal refugee Chinese family, seeing it as a form of "freeing the slaves."
Leo is back, this time as Riggs and Murtaugh's best buddy. The character had by now become a sentimental favorite of audiences, so the filmmakers softened his personality considerably for this last episode.
Jet Li enters the picture playing a villain for the first time in his career. He steals the film as the vicious, near-invincible killer; too bad his character is so evil.
Chris Rock also enters the picture, playing a fast-talking, hyperactive cop. The movie mostly wastes him, although it appears the filmmakers wanted him in the story to make it even more comedic, as though they weren't sure if Gibson and Glover could still pull it off alone.
Plot? Yeah, there's a plot, only it's just an excuse on which to hang all the gags, fights, killings, and explosions. Something about Asian Triads, human trafficking, and counterfeiting money.
And Murtaugh's house gets it again.
In the best Hollywood tradition, we find the worst film in the series sporting the best picture and sound. Using another dual-layer BD50 and VC-1 codec, the WB engineers transferred the film to disc in its native 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The image is sharper, deeper, brighter, cleaner, and better detailed than any of the preceding three films.
Just as the PQ is the best of the four movies, so is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 the best of the lot. It exhibits a wide range and impact, with the most all-enveloping surround sound of the bunch.
The first of the extras is a commentary by director Donner, co-producer J. Mills Goodloe, and assistant to the director Geoff Johns. Then there's a thirty-minute featurette, "Pure Lethal! New Angles, New Scenes, and Explosive Outtakes," a 1.33:1 ratio behind-the-scenes affair made in 1998. The extras conclude with a whopping forty-five scene selections and the usual assortment of spoken languages, subtitles, and captions.
Film rating: 5/10
The fifth, bonus disc is also a Blu-ray although a single-layer BD25. It contains four newly made (2010) and interrelated featurettes, with the stars, director, writer, and various other filmmakers discussing the making of the movies. The titles are "Psycho Pension: the Genesis of Lethal Weapon," about twenty-four minutes; "A Family Affair: Bringing Lethal Weapon to Life," about thirty minutes; "Pulling the Trigger: The World of Lethal Weapon," about thirty minutes; and "Maximum Impact: The Legacy of Lethal Weapon," about twenty-two minutes. All of them are in 1.85:1 ratios, combined with vintage footage that's sometimes in 1.33:1.
Warners have packaged the five discs in a single Blu-ray case with two inner sleeves. The case itself comes housed in an attractive, heavy-cardboard slipcover.
Fans of the "Lethal Weapons" series will probably love what the folks at Warner Bros. have done with the films, offering them in high-definition Blu-ray picture and sound, with a host of extras, even the stars and filmmakers today looking back at them. It's true that the movies themselves tended to go downhill as the series progressed, but that's not uncommon in the film business. It's just good to have them all in one place to pick and choose as one likes.