Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Release Date: July 10th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Richard Donner Actors: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan
nce again, it’s a thrill (and a rarity) to see the entire, sizeable cast of a movie franchise return – now for the fourth installment – here, including director Richard Donner and at least eight, recognizable lead and supporting players. On top of that, “Lethal Weapon 4” preserves the tone and themes to a substantial degree, despite taking a six-year pause between entries. With the largest budget, the most complex action sequences, even more comic relief, and the welcome addition of genuinely memorable villains, this likely final outing is one of the best in the series – and an admirable entrant to the blockbuster level of the action-comedy subgenre.
Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is going to be a grandfather (his daughter Rianne [Traci Wolfe] is expecting), while his partner Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is going to be a father (with his girlfriend Lorna Cole, played by Rene Russo). At work, thanks to their flagrant disregard for public property, an insurance snafu and employment technicality find them temporarily promoted to captains. The whole gang is back to working together, as Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), now a private investigator, and newcomer Detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock) join the aging crime fighters to stop an Asian slave-smuggling ring, mixed up with local crime boss Benny Chan (Kim Chane) and Chinese Triad thug Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li).
From the opening scene, in which Riggs and Murtaugh must combat a pyromaniac in an armored metal suit wielding a machinegun and a flamethrower – in the middle of a gas station – to the absolutely riveting highway car chase sequence that finds Riggs on a kitchen table being dragged behind a model home on a semi-truck like Mad Max’s version of waterskiing, the action has moved up several notches to meet the expectations of drooling fans. That particular pursuit is a notable precursor to “The Matrix Reloaded’s” awe-inspiring highway set piece, except with much more realism. With the addition of legendary martial artist Jet Li and fight choreography by Cory Yuen (“Kiss of the Dragon,” “Romeo Must Die,” “The Transporter”), the intensity is at a maximum – the stunts are more galvanizing and the duels far lengthier.
Jet Li is quite a catch for the primary villain. Just like in the first “Lethal Weapon,” the antagonist leader has an unforgettable (or, at least, recognizable) henchman, and Li provides a nearly unstoppable, certainly visually exciting foe, who gets to perform some of the most impressive cinematic wickedness. The other new player, Chris Rock, is less amusing, but not without his moments. Included entirely for comic relief, Rock works with Pesci to complicate the jokes and double the cynical back-and-forth dialogue. Since mixing humor into the adventure is a major piece of the “Lethal Weapon” objective, it’s an expected yet favorable decision. Meanwhile, Gibson finally cuts his hair, more destruction befalls the Murtaugh house, the police department is still the best place for jokes, and the new captains both accept that they’re “too old for this shit.” Overall, “Lethal Weapon 4” is an outstanding finale to the series, proving that some forms of overkill never get too old.
– Mike Massie