On the Third Day of Die Hard, My True Love Gave To Me...
A Pile of Illegal Guns
Lethal Weapon 3
Going into this third Lethal Weapon film the question I wondered, before even watching the movie itself, was if we really needed a third one of these. Setting aside my own feelings about the films, which so far I haven't enjoyed because they just haven't held up at all well, there's a basic question of structure. The characters have evolved to the point where it doesn't necessarily feel like there's anywhere left to go with them, at least not on the arc they started at with the beginning of the series.
Think about it this way: the whole point of the first film was that Martin Riggs, the eponymous "lethal weapon", was a suicidal wreck after the death of his wife and the first film was about him bonding with Murtaugh and finding some reason to live. The sequel then established the reason for Rigg's guilt -- he was supposed to meet his wife for dinner, forgot, and she died in a car crash on the way home -- and then absolved him of it by pinning her death four years prior on the bad guys of the second movie. After that, Riggs was basically healed, right? Guilt gone, new family in place with the Murtaughs. We're done here.
The reason I bring this up is because the films were built with am edge to them, a guy right out there being a "lethal weapon" and if he's no longer that guy what's the point of continuing the franchise? Well, okay, the point is money and Lethal Weapon 2 made absolute gobs of it. A sequel was inevitable, the question just became about how and why? What I will say is that while the film never really comes up with a way to justify it's own title -- the "lethal weapon" has certainly been defanged in Lethal Weapon 3 -- in its place we have a pretty inoffensive, and actually decently tolerable, third entry in this rather shaggy franchise.
The movie this time picks up with Riggs (sucking pit of all evil dressed up as a real boy, Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) getting busted down to beat cops after accidentally blowing up a very large building (mostly due to Riggs being Riggs). It's worth noting that Murtaugh is just one week from retirement and that while he hates being back on the beat it probably is the safest place for a guy looking to quietly bow out of the police force. Or, at least, it would be if trouble didn't somehow always find these guys. While on the beat they see an armored car robbery and they give chance, eventually bringing the armored car to justice and catching one of the two perps. It's a pretty solid bust, a father in their caps for a couple of now-beat cops.
As it turns out, though, the perps worked for former dirty cop turned criminal mastermind Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson). Travis has long been the target of an investigation from Internal Affairs, and I.A. detective Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) eventually teams up with the guys to work the case as more and more evidence mounts. And, as we learn, 4ravis is making big moves in the illegal weapons game. It's up to Riggs, Murtaugh, and Cole to take out 4ravis and get his guns (and ammo) off the streets before a lot of innocent people die.
The thing about Lethal Weapon 3 is that it hardly feels like a Lethal Weapon film. All the edges have been sanded off the characters at this point that they hardly resemble who they were in the first film. Yes, big action happens and there's a fair bit of destruction, but at no point does it feel like Riggs is out there on the edge, trying to usher himself off this mortal coil because he's just so "craaaaaaazy!" Meanwhile, Murtaugh has gone from dependable street cop who's there to rein Riggs in to just this sad old guy wandering around while shit happens around him. These aren't the characters we remember, at all.
That said, the versions we get here do feel the most like actual police officers, and they do have an actual case that makes a certain amount of sense. It's not the nonsensical collection of story beats from the second film, and it's a case they follow all the way to completion (unlike in the first movie). So in regards to basic story and structure, this film is miles above the previous two. It's neither as edgy or as fun but it does hold together a lot better, especially all these years later.
Part of why the film even works as well as it does is because of the introduction of Lorna Cole. Russo manages to bring a bit of edge to her character (or, well, at least as much edge as you can get for a softened entry in this franchise) and she does manage to have solid chemistry with Riggs. The story writes her into the role of his love interest and it works reasonably well. It's weird to think of Riggs, the one was saw two movies back, settling happily into a relationship, but if they had to give him one then Cole is a good character for the job.
The movie does still have a whole ton of flaws, mind you. There's a sub-plot with a sassy Black armored car drive that's in love with Murtaugh, and then just as quickly as it's raised it's then dropped, never to show up again. Joe Pesci's Leo Getz is here and he does practically nothing for the whole run time, proving he's a character that could have been excised entirely (were it not for the fact that he was apparently a popular addition to the second film). And honestly the villain isn't much of a character at all. While Wilson has a certain sleazy charm in his ex-cop 4ravis, the character doesn't have a lot of scenes and generally is pretty shallow in his development. Oh, and Murtaugh just decides at the end of the film to not retire because... he can't. Sure.
All of these things speak to a film that as work-shopped by studio heads and written by committee to get the right "family-adjacent" product to shove out in theaters. It hits all the beats that's expected from a "tent-pole picture", putting these familiar characters through another story not because it was needed but because there was money to be made. From the love story to the threat that one of the two characters might leave the franchise, giving this the air of a "final installment", everything in this film is engineered simply to get butts in seats. None of it is good, it just exists.
But at the same time it is tolerable. It's inoffensive and reasonably watchable. The cast is game, a few of the action set-pieces are actually decent, and it all goes by pretty breezily. This film hardly resembles the original movie at this point, for good or ill, but it is easily digestible in its own right. Once I was done watching Lethal Weapon 3 I struggled to come up with a reason for why I should care about anything I just watched, but I also didn't outright hate my time watching the film either. It simply... happened.
Lethal Weapon 3 is a film that exists. That actually makes it probably the most tolerable of the three films we've gotten through. That's absolutely not a rousing endorsement of the film and I could see plenty of fans hating this movie (although not as much as they hate part four). But on the whole there were worse ways to spend the "Five Days of Die Hard" than with Lethal Weapon 3.