Lethal Weapon 4
Director: Richard Donner
Martial arts director: Corey Yuen
Stars: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Jet Li, Joe Pesci, Chris Rock
While fishing (I guess in a lame homage to the even lamer Glover/Pesci bomb Gone Fishin') everyone's favorite mismatched cop duo Murtaugh (Glover) and Riggs (Gibson) happen upon a ship -- well, actually, it nearly crashes into them. After a gunfight, they discover a boatload full of illegal Chinese immigrants, who are supposedly going to be sold for slave labor to pay to get a Triad boss' (Li) buddies out of jail. Murtaugh, Riggs and their new buddy Butters (Rock) team up to try and bring the operation down.
There's a rule in Hollywood -- if it works, do it again... and again... and again. The Lethal Weapon series was one of the most popular of the late '80's and early '90's, so when Warner Bros. started to run into financial trouble, they went to their proverbial cash cow. None of the lead people originally wanted to do the movie, but after getting hefty paychecks (Gibson got between $15-20 million), they put aside any "creative differences" and went to work.
Which brings to mind another saying -- "too many cooks spoil the broth." In this case, it might be "too many big names spoil the movie." With so many famous actors in one movie, the story is almost always doomed to suffer as each actor tries to outdo the other in order to get noticed (as with the last Batman movie). Sometimes -- as with Pulp Fiction -- a large ensemble cast works, but under Donner's lackluster direction, Lethal Weapon 4 quickly becomes a mishmash of a movie. This is painfully apparent in certain scenes where the actors are literally yelling over each other.
The problem is even worse because even the smaller characters are given large subplots, which really stop the flow of the movie. Joe Pesci's character is not needed at all -- while he was enjoyable in part 2, there's just no reason for the Leo Geotz character to be in Lethal Weapon 4. Chris Rock's character is also superfluous; he's the stereotypical "black sidekick," even down to the point that he gets shot and "inspires" the hero (Murtaugh) to beat the bad guy.
There's also the sticky point about the comments Riggs makes about Chinese people ("flied lice," Chinese people are short, they're all good martial artists, etc.). It's kind of sad that in this day and age that Hollywood scriptwriters must still depend on bad stereotypes to create "jokes." I'm not really PC, and I can kind of see how the comments reflect the character of Riggs, but it just seems a cheap way to create tension or humor.
Lethal Weapon 4 does have some good points, though. Of course, all of them revolve around Jet Li, who is quite convincing in his first role as a villain. Unlike many of the actors in the movie, he takes a stock character ("the evil Chinaman") and makes it his own. While his screen time is painfully short and he only has about 10 lines in the movie (only one in English), there's something in his eyes that convinces you that Li is one bad-ass dude. He is also spectacular in the fight scenes. Li wisely brought in noted HK director Corey Yuen to direct the martial arts sequences, which is a good thing, because Donner kept bitching that Li was moving too fast for the cameras and would have probably screwed them all up. Of course, Li dies at the end, but it takes both Murtaugh and Riggs, along with assorted weapons, including a machine gun, to do Li in.
One good thing did come out of Lethal Weapon 4. Jet Li was introduced successfully to US audiences. (Audiences responded so well to Li that he was added to the film's poster after the opening weekend.) Like Jackie Chan before him, US companies will be re-releasing some of Li's HK movies (the first being Black Mask) and he got a multi-million dollar paycheck for his first US movie, Romeo Must Die. If you're new to Jet Li, Lethal Weapon 4 will make a decent introduction, but if you're a long-time fan, you'll probably be disappointed.
A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here
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