Monday, March 17, 2008

Beware the Ides of March: Lethal Saturday

There's no real connection between the two phrases in my title, but since it's March, I thought it was appropriate.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those folks who enjoys pain. Even more specifically, I'm not one of those people that enjoys inflicting pain on ones self. What's the name for those folks again? Misogynists? No, that's not right. Anyhow, I did something this weekend that I KNEW would cause me distress. I knew it would be painful, and I knew it would be ugly. But I wanted a challenge. Consider it a stress test. A way to find ones inner limits. The borders between sanity and, well, insanity needed to be sussed out.

I watched all four Lethal Weapon movies in one sitting.

Hard to really put together an Executive Summary for this experience, though "yikes" goes a pretty long way in expressing my gutteral distress. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover made a boat load of money from these movies. The fact that they were all directed by Richard "Superman I and II" Donner is truly upsetting. Man, where do I even begin.

Billed as the series that "re-invented the buddy-cop genre", I'm of course forced to ask myself what state this genre was in before Lethal Weapon came on the scene. I mean, what were the elements that Lethal Weapon brought to the table that spun this tried and true genre on its ear?? By my reckoning, the key components are 2 cops, explosions, a shoot out, a 'baddie' and a police chief who is secretly on their side. Naturally, the two cops come from different backgrounds, and approach problems in very unique ways. However, it is their differences that are required to help them solve the crimes and off the baddie.

Am I warm? So that sounds like the very definition of the genre, and I'm having a hard time seeing what Mel, Danny and Richard brough to the mix. But oh well. That's just a minor nit.

Lethal Weapon I actually wasn't THAT terrible of a movie. Mel Gibson was still an actual actor, and not just a charicature of himself. He played a suicidal cop who was very distressed over the death of his young bride, partnered with the stable, family-man Glover in order to keep him out of trouble. Naturally, trouble ensues. Though the plot is laughably predictable, as per the nature of the genre, it is the crazy/wacky antics of the two protagonists that keep audiences engaged. Odd that Riggs/Gibson can afford a beach front trailer in Malibu. Last time I checked, those plots were going for about a million bucks a piece. Granted, this was the early eighties, but the absurdity of it must have struck more than one audience member as odd. Still, at the end of the day, the movie had a somewhat clever plot that started with a suicide/murder and ended up being a giant heroine conspiracy, requiring a giant shoot out at the end. Natch. My personal favorite moment of the movie was the opening credits. They looked like an aborted Don Varner airbrush project.

Lethal Weapon II was when it all fell apart. Perhaps a movie making convention Donner DID invent was the notion of taking everything that "worked" in the first one, and simply repeating it in the second one. After all, hearing Danny Glover muttering "I'm getting too old for this sh!t" simply DOES NOT get old. Right??? This time, the duo are up against racist South Africans, who are busy smuggling drugs and gold. Wait, did I say duo??? I meant trio! Cuz in order to add some zaniness to the mix, we get Joe Pesci playing "Leo Getz". He so crazy. Ugn. In case you can't smell the force excitement in my voice, let me be quite clear in saying that this addition was the pits. Anyhow, the trio sets off to solve the story, which started with a giant car chase. I'm a big fan of car chases, so I've got nothing to complain about. I'm also a big fan of Patsy Kensit, who makes a brief appearance in this film. I'm tempted to call out blow-by-blow the number of repeated "gags" that were re-cycled for this movie, but I worry I will miss some. Even direct lines of dialog that seemed original in the first are beaten into submission in this sequel. Oh, forgot to mention: that's part two of the equation. You take whatever worked in the first one, put it into the second, and then beat it into submission. And be sure to do it on a bigger scale. Which brings us to...

Lethal Weapon III. This one starts with a car chase. Nice twist. I have to confess, the thing I loved about all four movies was seeing Los Angeles grow up over the years. The first movie came out in 82, and the final chapter wasn't released until 98. The other amusing byproduct of this time span is you get to see the actors age. Danny Glover and his movie wife emerge without a scratch. In fact, if I didn't know better, I would swear they were CGI characters. Though DG is sporting a bit of a gut by LWIV, it is Mel Gibson who seems to be playing the role of the Portrait of Dorian Grey, taking on the wounds and years of the entire cast. By LWIII, he was a different Mel Gibson. His 80's poof hair looked like a prosthetic. Not only was it way out of style, but it just looked weird. Like something someone would grow in the Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. You know, Play Dough. But anyhow, LWIII takes all of the elements that "worked" in I and II, repeats them, notches them up, and does them to death. Once again, the exact same lines of dialog are reproduced to the giggling glee of audence members everywhere. America has yet to grow tired of "I'm getting too old for this Sh!t". And why the heck would they? Naturally, the producers saw fit to introduce a new character, you know, to mix things up. Rene Russo comes in as the tough-as-nails Internal Affairs officer, who, you guessed it, has a heart of gold... and a thing for Riggs. Mayhem Ensues. This time, the four musketeers are up against an ex-cop who has (you guessed it) gone bad and opened up his own housing tract. Of course, that's just a cover for his gun and ammo running business. Cool. In order to take the action "to the next level", Riggs and Murtaugh have to blow up a building, and burn down the entire housing tract. Audiences world wide shell out millions of dollars to see the crew do their thing. Time to turn the franchise up to 11 as we finally recieve...

Lethal Weapon IV. Talk about ending on a down note. Just in case you thought credibility was stretched far to thin with parts II and III, it's time for the gang (Gibson, Glover, Pesci, Russo) to take on the Triads and international slave trading. But this time, it's time to get wacky. Following the painful formula to the letter, the new introduction is Chris Rock, who was clearly meant as a comedic device. They even provided him with a few opportunities to do his "angry black man" shctick, usually at the expense of everyone's favorite joke-butt, Leo Getz. But just to make it more wacky, turns out, Rock has impregnated Glovers movie daughter... and Glover doesn't know it. But Gibson does! Can you imagine a nuttier set of circumstances????? I sure can't. yikes. Action begins with a freighter running aground in Long Beach harbor. Seems like one thing Donner has not lost his flair for is getting stuff on film that is REALLY hard to get permits for. Good stuff. Murtaugh's fishing boat (his third of the series) gets trashed in said grounding. Nice. But the thing that really opens this one up to the masses is the inclusion of Jet Li. Naturally, you cannot have Li in your movie and not do a bunch of corny Hong Kong style fighting. Just like you wouldn't have Chris Rock in your movie and not have him do his "angry black man" routine. Without fail, this means there will be a Kung-Fu fist fight at the end of the movie. Don't worry: Lethal Weapon is a lady that delivers. Mel Gibson is showing his age brutally in this movie. He finally cropped his hair a bit tighter, but this reveals the fact that it's thinning out faster than original dialog in this series. He seems tired, moves slowly, and acts bored. So much so that there's even a few gags in the movie that draw attention to this. The punchline? We even get to hear Mel utter the immortal wizdom of his partner: I'm getting too old for this sh!t.

What saddens me most is that the audience probably has NOT gotten too old for this sh!t, nor has this sh!t gotten to old for the audience. It breaks my heart to know that audiences everywhere line up for this type of drivel, faster than the studio can feed it to them. I constantly hear people complaining about how hollywood has no new ideas, and that they're always recycling stuff, or just putting out crap. I can't help but think this would not be the case, IF people would stop lining up for said recycled crap. I mean, according to the numbers, people LOVE this stuff. These films brought in WAY too much money for it to be a fluke. It's not like people saw the posters and commercials, went to see it, and left pissed. They gobbled this stuff up, and begged for more. Turns out, America LOVES recycled crap.

Was it worth it? yes, I think Lethal Saturday was a good spin. Like I said, I do like car chases and explosions. I'm also a big fan of being right, and these plots gave me ample opportunity to flex my prediction muscles. Though I suppose that's a lot like high-fiving yourself when you bench press twenty pounds, it's still fun nontheless. It was amusing seeing Mel Gibson age poorly, and lose all of his acting abilities. Perhaps most amusing was watching his performances with the knowledge that a few years later he'll be pulled over by LAPD on PCH, and belt out a drunken rant against jews and hollywood. Every time Riggs would come on screen, I saw nothing but a drunken, bloated, balding actor whose gumlines are receeding faster than his hairline. Also weird that he's now a successful director. So yeah, it was a good watch, but mainly from a train wreck perspective. These are some god-awful movies that America loves. Says a lot about the viewing public, I suppose.

But hey, at the end of the day, I'm the one that spent his saturday watching them all.

1 comment:

Swamptooth said...

I saw "Lethal Weapon IV" the evening before the first Black and Blue recording session up at TRU Records. I was down from Santa Barbara, visiting my folks. It was a family outing to Edwards El Toro, and the prologue was dinner at the chinese place right next door. The movie was disappointing, as expected (I know, contradiction in terms). That night I woke my parents to take me to the emergency room, thinking I had appendicitis. Turns out it was my first ever episode of indigestion. Oops, sorry Mom and Dad. Good prep for a recording session, though.

Anyway, yeah, first movie was pretty good; the rest were nose-on-the-face formula snoozers, the kind you can't sleep through for the explosions and screeching tires. I pondered why they designed theater seat backs with that painful vertical molded ridge dead center where your head rests. I stared at the red velvet curtains and grappled with my convulsing abdomen, but I do seem to remember some painfully obvious setup with a nailgun, and some very prominent product placement for Subway. Maybe it was the Joe Pesci "they f*** you at the drive through" bit. Small, but feisty!

Anyhoo, nice review. Once again taking "classic" on unexpected excursions into the unknown, with 'safe return doubtful' (as my hero Ernest Shackleton once placed in a want ad).