Fourth installment of buddy cop series dead on arrival
You know the "Lethal Weapon" guys have run out of ideas when they burn screen time in the last sequel crowbarring a tender moment into the film for obnoxious tag-along Leo Getz.
Working under the mistaken impression that moviegoers have become emotionally attached to the series regulars, "Lethal Weapon 4" gives Riggs, Murtaugh and just about everyone else their own scene in which to wax misty for one reason or another.
Cole (Rene Russo) is nine months pregnant and moody about marriage. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) gets a short soliloquy on slavery. Riggs (Mel Gibson) turns the franchise running gag, "I'm too old for this s---," into a falsely poignant meditation on conceding to middle-age. They even run the closing credits over a family album of stills from all four movies and snapshots of the crew. Oh, brother!
But turning Leo, the loquacious, stuttering scrounge played by Joe Pesci, into a sympathy figure with a teary recollection of the death of his childhood pet frog is unforgivable. I'm not making this up. They really want you to feel for the guy.
"Lethal Weapon 4" is the ultimate example of a paycheck movie. Warner Bros. must have thrown so much cash at the primary players that they just couldn't say no, even to something stale as this design-by-committee stew.
Opening with an over-produced bullets-and-balls-of-fire sequence that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, director Richard Donner seems to be desperate to prove that he, Gibson and Glover still have it.
The scene involves an extra in a bullet-proof suit, toting a flame-thrower and barbecuing an intersection in downtown Los Angeles. It's not very exciting or funny despite its hyperactive efforts, and it only leads into more of the same -- generic gun battles, cars that explode at the slightest provocation and, just for good measure, a Chinatown chase scene cloned from the DNA of 100 other movies.
With all this soul-searching and worshipping at the alter of The Formula, "Lethal Weapon 4" barely has time to address the plot, which is so convoluted that 30 minutes before the end there's a break in the story so Riggs can road map it for us with an expository dialogue that reads like a laundry list.
All I got was that the bad guys, Chinese gangsters, are smuggling immigrants into L.A. and forcing them into some kind of counterfeiting ring, which leads to an unfortunate number of detestable Chinaman jokes that were already old when Vaudevillians were telling them ("Who's the guy in the pajamas?" is the least offensive jab).
By the time the picture gets all the prerequisites out of the way -- Riggs' practical jokes and property damage, Murtaugh's crippled car and promiscuous offspring, etc. -- there's barely enough time to introduce the movie's one saving grace:
"LW4" is America's introduction to Jet Li, the crown prince of Hong Kong martial arts flicks who has two more Tinsel Town projects already in the works.
Accustom to playing heroes in his own films, Li seems to really enjoy his turn here as a grinning nogoodnick. He only has maybe four speaking lines, only one of them in English, but he really gets to showcase his lightning-fast fight style, kicking everybody's (and I mean everybody's) butts in a couple of fight scenes that tent pole the movie's uneven pacing.
Ex-stand-up comic and Saturday Night Live alum Chris Rock also joins the cast, but his contribution is negligible. Supposedly a "serious, overzealous" young detective, he is nonetheless scripted some of the movie's zingers and he seems at a loss when trying to play it straight and far too deadpan when he's trying to be witty.
"LW4" definitely has its moments. The one good action sequence finds Riggs dukeing it out with a kung fu fella inside one-half of a prefabricated building being transported on the back of a speeding flatbed truck. He gets throw out the open side with some of the furniture and surfs an upside-down table down the freeway.
But even that scene falls victim to the script's occasional excesses, as it continues with Murtaugh and Riggs jumping their sedan off the highway, through the side of a skyscraper, then out the other side and back onto the freeway. Enough already.