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An Oddly Racist Finale
Lethal Weapon 4
Ah, yes, now here we have the undeniably awful refuse of the Lethal Weapon series. When you think about just how low this series can get, this fourth entry has to be what comes to everyone's minds. Why? Because it essentially sank the franchise. Looking at it from a pure numbers game, the previous three installments were all made on fairly tiny budgets (between $15 and $30 Mil each) and they all made beaucoup bucks at the Box Office. Lethal Weapon 4 cost three times as much (at least) for a reported $100 Mil-plus and it made about the same as the previous films ($285 Mil). There clearly were diminishing returned for the franchise.
This actually happens with a lot of franchises. Good or bad, plenty of films have an upper cap for what fans are willing to spend on them. If you look at the TerminatorIs it a series about a future nuclear war and the survivors of the aftermath? Is it a series of chase movies set in the present day? Is it a series about time travel? That fact is that the Terminator series is all of those concepts. The mash-up of genres and ideas shouldn't work, but the films have proven adept at mixing into a heady series unlike any other. franchise, the upper cap for that series was $500 Mil, set by the outstanding Terminator 2: Judgment Day, generally regarded as the best entry in that series. Every other movie in the series did worse, no matter how much money was thrown at them. And it was the same thing here for Lethal Weapon: no matter how much money was spent, the films weren't going to make more than $300 Mil.
Maybe you could think the studio didn't know the cap, but it did still seem a little foolhardy to spent north of $100 Mil on a franchise when you weren't sure it was going to recoup all that. It did make plenty to cover its expenses, but considering advertising and overseas rights and all that, the studio probably broke even. But considering how much all the stars cost at that point -- Gibson and Glover, Russo, Pesci, and new addition Chris Rock -- it would have been hard to get the budget down much at all. People cost money and everyone's asks were high in the mid-1990s. What else could the studio have done?
"Produce a better movie," is the easy answer, and it's true, this movie is hot garbage. It certainly doesn't look, on screen, like it cost three times as much to make this fourth entry, and that's to say nothing of an awful script that led to an overly long movie that feels like a chore to get through. But maybe if it had been better the film would have had better legs with the fans. It was just the right film to produce mediocre results while also being the worse loved of any film in the franchise. It's hard to pull a film series out of a tailspin like that, so studio Warner Bros. didn't even try. Which is good because this film is bad enough I would have hated to see a fifth one.
The problems in the film start early with Riggs (literal garbage formed into the shape of a man, Mel Gibson) abusing Murtaugh (Danny Glover) over and over again simply because he can. The film plays it off as funny but, frankly, every mean thing he does to his partner of, now, nine years just comes off as cruel. When he's not abusing the poor guy (which, clearly, this "pranks" are meant to show he's still a loose canon despite the fact that all his actual edges were sanded off long ago) the two start work on a homicide/immigration case. When a Chinese ship nearly crashes into Murtaugh's boat with Riggs, Murtaugh, and Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) on board, the cops go to investigate, only to get shot at by the sailors. This leads to them discovering (after killing everyone that shoots at them) that the sailors were transporting illegal immigrants from China over, a terrified lot of people that were just looking for a new life (and likely would have worked in indentured servitude for the rest of their lives).
The cops follow the case, such as it is, to the shop of one Uncle Benny Chan (Kim Chan), a Chinatown crime boss (with a thick Chinese accent the cops mock every chance they get). Soon they're following the clues that lead them to the Triads in Chinatown, which is overseen by Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li), a real murderous prick who kills anyone that even gets a whiff of what he's plotting. And then there's something about sneaking in four leaders of the Triads from Hong Kong, counterfeiting a bunch of money, and those illegal slaves. It's all a lot and none of it really hangs together at all.
If there's a big flaw with the film it's that, despite the concise summary I gave above, it film itself doesn't feel concise. There's a good 75 minutes of plot that's actually focused on that story, and another 50 minutes of just meandering garbage that could easily have been edited out. All the "amusing" pranks, the side story about an Internal Affairs investigation against Roger (which never goes anywhere and has no consequential bearing on the story), Leo Gets as a P.I. and his various cases, and the introduction of Chris Rock's Detective Lee Butters (which leads to a hugely uncomfortable gay-panic storyline), none of that really needs to be here and it drags the momentum of the film way, way down.
Beyond that, the film also wastes the talents of so many people. Jet Li is here, in one of his biggest Hollywood roles at the time, and he's barely allowed to act while all his action is filmed in the worse way possible. These "action" films have never been great about their action, having to do a lot of choppy editing and cuts just to cover for the fact that their stars aren't actual action stars. Li, though, is a properly trained martial artist that can do all the stunts asked of him, but the film is still shot and edited in the same way here. It sucks because even with Li you still can't follow the action or what he's doing. An absolute waste.
Plenty of stars are brought back (or brought in) and then given nothing to do. Rene Russo returns here after having a meaty role in the third movie. shoves aside when the story makes her character pregnant. I'm sure the point was the "mature" Riggs, to show he could be a father, but all it does it remove a great part of the dynamic that worked in the third film and basically destroy a great character. Pesci is here to, basically because he was in two films, but because he has nothing really to do with the plot he just hangs around and acts annoying. Even Murtaugh's family is here simply because they've always been here, but they have so little screen time this time around you have to wonder why?
The films trended more and more into comedy and away from the action, but the comedy this time falls as flat as the action does. I've already harped on the pranks, and the gay panic story, but even the times the film is just trying to use its comedic people for comedy it doesn't work. Chris Rock is here so he can deliver two very Chris Rock monologues, which hurts the pace, yes, but they also just aren't funny. I'm not sure if hearing him deliver jokes about cellphones at the time was amusing but it sounds really dated now when everyone owns cellphones and no one even thinks about it anymore. It's the kind of thing that felt dated them and feels really awful now.
And, really, I think that's the problem not only with this film (but it's really a problem here with a film populated by character that should have been put out to pasture long ago) but the whole franchise: anything that worked about the series has long since expired, just like all the humor in this movie. Lethal Weapon 4 is an awful, tedious mess and Warners was right to never make another one again. Despite them recently threatening to actually make a fifth film (which, how old would Riggs and Murtaugh be at this point?) let's hope the come to their senses and move on. No one is asking for another Lethal Weapon, and they never will.
Also, now that I'm done with these reviews: I hate Mel Gibson and I never want to watch one of his movies again.