Viking Night: Lethal Weapon
By Bruce Hall
July 12, 2016
There are maybe three things in the universe better than watching an old favorite film and finding out it’s even better than you remember. One would be winning a bazillion dollars. Another would be waking up as Brad Pitt in 1995. Just think - you’d get to work with Morgan Freeman AND date Gwyneth Paltrow before she became an insufferable punch line. As for the third, I’d prefer to save that for my upcoming spin off column, Viking Night-Nights. It’s basically a run of the mill detective show, but with a supernatural twist. And David Hasselhoff plays my dad.
Sorry. As I was saying, I’ve just had a wonderful experience. I know I have a habit of giving away my overall opinion early, but I assume if you’re still reading after that rather clumsy Baywatch Nights reference, that I’ve got your attention. So let me come right out and say that overall, Lethal Weapon is an epic, badass, masterpiece of action cinema. It succeeds at nearly everything to which it aspires, and is one of the few films you can say was truly a game changer.
But wait a minute - did someone say something about Christmas?
The great thing about a Christmas movie set in Los Angeles is that you don’t have to bother with making it actually LOOK like Christmas. Just...toss a few strings of lights in the periphery of every scene and call it good. Maybe open with “Jingle Bell Rock” playing in the background as a pert, young, freckled girl snorts a line of coke and then throws herself half naked off the apartment balcony. Wait, what? Yes, after establishing right away that it’s Christmas time, the holidays are rarely referenced again. I think the only reason it happened at all was to tie it in with another plot point, but we’ll get to that.
Contrast this with the home life of respected homicide detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who is celebrating his 50th birthday with his loving family. Murtaugh is on the cusp of retirement, and is looking forward to spending his golden years with that giant family in his giant house with the three car garage and the boat in the driveway and exactly how much is detective Murtaugh making?
Assuming it’s all legal, life couldn’t be better for Team Murtaugh. Contrast this with not so celebrated detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), an ex special forces badass who is in the midst of an extended psychological breakdown after the death of his wife. He lives in a battered trailer off the beach. He wakes up every morning naked with a cigarette in his mouth and takes most of his meals in liquid form - and I’m not talking about wheat grass smoothies. Riggs is genuinely devastated over this loss, and Mel Gibson - whose current reputation unfortunately obscures his many past achievements - sells the shit out of this one.
Let me be clear - by the time the character intros are over, it’s impossible not to feel completely invested in Riggs and Murtaugh. Well, “impossible” unless you’re an unfeeling monster. Murtaugh really seems like a great guy. His family is super likable. Meanwhile, Riggs is in his booze fumigated trailer, clutching at a picture of his dead wife while he stares down the barrel of his own service pistol. Lethal Weapon is a fantastically well written movie. Shane Black (screenwriter) was worth whatever they paid him and then some. Does it retroactively make up for Iron Man 3, which I enjoyed precisely as much as I enjoyed having all four of my impacted wisdom teeth removed?