Sunday, December 14, 2014

Unorthodox Christmas: Lethal Weapon (1987)

FYI: it's completely coincidence that my first two movies here came out the same year...
as is the fact they both have a Downey connection somewhere.

I saw "Lethal Weapon" once YEARS ago, but had zero memory of it.
Mr. Downey brought it back to my attention in a video he did for MTV. He took a trip to Blockbuster (he was promoting "Gothika" at the time so it had to have been around 2004) and picked three movies.
For those not interested in seeing the video, this is what he said in a nutshell.

  • it's a Joel Silver movie [he produced "Gothika"]
  • Mel Gibson is on the edge, suicidal
  • key selling point: Eric Clapton helped write the score

Lethal Weapon

Director: Richard Donner (of "Superman" fame)
Write: Shane Black
Composers: Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen
[key players]
Roger Murtaugh- Danny Glover
Martin Riggs- Mel Gibson
Mr. Joshua- Gary Busey

OSCAR Nomination- Best Sound
Christmas content:
The movie happens to take place between December 20-25... per my guesstimation. All of the buildings, offices and homes are decorated with wreaths and Christmas trees. We hear "Jingle Bell Rock" and a couple other Christmas songs. Some of the cops sing "Silent Night" in one scene.
And on TV, we see excerpts from a Looney Toons Christmas special and Alistair Sim's "A Christmas Carol."
Hilariously, the latter shows Scrooge asking "What day is it?" and Gary Busey kills the TV, screaming, "It's [expletive] Christmas!"

Our "Lethal Weapon" in question is Vietnam veteran and cop Martin Riggs. Since the tragic death of his wife, he'd been on the edge, even suicidal. It gets to a point where he's transferred and assigned a partner.
That partner happens to be 50-year old (as of the movie's beginning) old-school cop Roger Murtaugh.

Their case is investigating the murder of Amanda Hunsacker. Her father was an old friend of Roger's who recently tried to get back in touch with him.
As they get deeper into the case, it becomes clear there's more going on than they realize.

Amanda died because her father was backing out of a business he'd been steeped in for several years... smuggling drugs out of Asia. His bank served as a front.
This operation originated during Vietnam when it was then known as "Air America."
[Coincidentally, Mel Gibson starred in a movie called "Air America" in 1990... not one of RDJ's best movies... everyone survives, but the plot got very convoluted in the third act]

Other than the names I listed, I don't recognize anyone else. I thought I may have seen the actress who played Murtaugh's teenage daughter in other projects, but her only credits were in this particular franchise.

I first saw two of the actors in 90's baseball movies. Gary Busey was aging Chicago Cub pitcher "Rocket" in "Rookie of the Year" and Danny Glover was the manager of the Angels of Anaheim in "Angels in the Outfield."[One day, I may do a "Rookie of the Year" review. Under, either, nostalgia, baseball or guilty pleasures]
For different reasons, "Lethal Weapon" was a stand-out film for them.
Mr. Joshua is easily one of the most intimidating villains in film. He was part of the U.S. Army's Special Forces division in Vietnam (as was Riggs). Not only can he handle a firearm with expertise, but he's very skilled in hand-to-hand combat as well. I'll always be a little partial to Gary Busey in "Rookie of the Year," but it's good to remember he could play a kick-ass bad guy as well.
He was also quite the scene-stealer in "Celebrity Apprentice" a few years back... he's a little out there, but when you think about it, some of his Busey-isms (I came up with that myself) make a lot of poetic sense. 

Danny Glover is really good at what he does as is his character. Too bad he's saddled with the role of the "straight man" whose running gag is "I'm too old for this shit"... compared to everyone else, he's just not as interesting.
And by everyone else, I mean Mel Gibson.

Never mind that the fact he's been fodder for rumors and tabloids for the past decade...
in 1987, he was in top form... both physically and his acting ability

In his first scene, we see him in his Winnebago home buck-naked. As I remember, the first time I saw a male butt in a movie... I guess I remembered that (and little else about the movie other than the "I'm too old for this..." line) because my mom drew attention to it.
At the moment, I'm having trouble remembering any other "butt" scenes in movies to draw comparisons, but it's probably the best looking male butt I'd ever seen in a movie.

After "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," I've become very leery about male full frontal nudity in film... but in this case, I dare say ALL of Mel Gibson would have been in peak condition in 1987.

Now for the acting... Mel Gibson plays a really good psycho in this. Until it's too late, you usually don't know what to expect with Riggs. You don't know if he'll pull a gun, shoot first and ask questions later, or jump off a building handcuffed by a would-be jumper. He's also really good expressing the emotional turmoil of this character. Some of the credit does go to the intense film score, but the scene where he points a loaded gun to his head... it's heart-wrenching. Anyone not holding their breath is clearly already dead.

Despite the fact he can be a loose cannon from time to time, Riggs proves to be a valuable partner to Roger. Great chemistry between these two actors. That's probably what this film is about at its heart. Going by their first encounter with one another, you never would have guessed they'd get along as great as they do.

As for the sequels: I should get around to seeing them at some point.

I vaguely remember the second one where Joe Pesci is a source of comic relief.... I also feel my chest tighten up, recollecting a scene when the bad guys break into Roger's house and threaten him and his family... nothing scarier than the bad guys finding out where you live.

with one small exception...

cut again to Gary Busey killing the TV

"It's [expletive] Christmas!"

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