On the Second Day of Die Hard, My True Love Gave To Me...
South African Druglords
Lethal Weapon 2
I have to admit: I have never seen such a disappointing sequel before. Well, okay, that might be hyperbole as The Matrix Revolutions and Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker are certainly worse. But that's a rarefied club that most films certainly don't want to be a part of. However, as far as taking a look at what worked in one film and trying to craft something even better in its sequel, Lethal Weapon 2 certainly does everything it can to squander all its potential. This is just a lazy movie.
I didn't much like the first film when I went back to re-watch it after all these many decades away (holy crap, the original came out in 1987) but I could see the spark for why the film was such a hit at the time. It fed into the same genre that the Die Hard movies would eventually dominate, with one of Hollywood's biggest stars at the time (literal biologic waste shoved into a human skin suit, Mel Gibson), all leading to absolute Box Office gold. The producers clearly said, "well, this is what worked and what people liked, lets just do this even more!" And so they did and, wow, do the end results simply not work.
In the film the two detectives, Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Riggs (Mel Gibson), end up on the case of a crew of drug dealers (I guess their division has become "Major Crimes" even though they, and their captain, all worked for Homicide before). This leads to a big chase through downtown, racking up all kinds of carnage and bills, but they do manage to at least stop one of the drug dealers' cars (if not catch the dealer himself), capturing many millions of dollars in illicit gold coins. Clearly these drug dealers are up to something really big, but before the detectives can go any further on the case Murtaugh (and his wife) are attacked in their bed, tied up and threatened so they'll back off the case. Although Murtaugh doesn't want to, their captain reassigned the detectives.
Instead of following the drug dealers the two detectives are instead assigned to protective duty for one Leo Getz (Joe Pesci). Getz, a money launderer for drug dealers, turned states evidence and needs protection until the Feds can get into town and pick him up. Almost as soon as they meet Getz, though, someone tries to kill the guy (and the detectives), and pretty quickly Murtaugh and Riggs realize that Getz is tied up in the same drug dealing case the detectives were following and, as they follow the clues, they see it all traces back to the South African Consulate and the Consulate's head, the very corrupt Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland). It then becomes a matter of taking down Rudd before the villain finds a way to escape the U.S. under the cover of Diplomatic Immunity.
As with the first film, I can understand how Lethal Weapon 2 became a big hit at the time. Released two years after the first film, with that movie playing pretty regularly on cable movie channels, and with the stars of both Glover and Gibson only growing, fan interest in a sequel was getting bigger and bigger. People wanted to spend more time with Riggs and Murtaugh, to see them on some new adventure (that, too, could then spend years on the cable movie channels). Warner Bros. saw dollar signs, investing $30 Mil in the film (double its first budget) and recouping a tidy $227.9 Mil at the Box Office (quite the haul for the time period).
This film benefited at the Box Office in a number of ways, but probably one of the best factors was that it came out before the first Die Hard This film (and its predecessor) certainly play in the same pool: greedy terrorists, a couple of grungy cops, a case set during Christmas. If anything, Die Hard is a refinement of Lethal Weapon's formula, dressed up better and with many of the campy elements sanded off.
Make no mistake, this film gets pretty darn campy. Where the first movie found a little bit of humor from its settings and the banter of its buddy cops, this sequel doubles-down hard on the humor. It's a lighter, sillier, and much more comedic version of Lethal Weapon, with several action set-pieces that verge on slap-stick. It's a weird direction for the films to take when you consider that one of these two guys is a Vietnam vet with PTSD who, until very recently, was suicidal over the death of his wife. All of that darkness is basically gone here.
In it's place: Joe Pesci. I don't blame Pesci here as he's doing exactly what was asked of him -- bring his motor-mouthed prattle to the character of Getz -- but my god is his character obnoxious, constantly talking without saying anything while stuttering out "okay, okay, okay" over and over again. Pesci does what he can with the character, and I think he even somehow became a fan-favorite at the time, but I spent all of his scenes desperately wishing the drug dealers would find a way to kill him.
But then I wanted the drug dealers to kill of Riggs and Murtaugh, too. This film makes you appreciate the patter and banter of Shane Black's script from the first movie because that writer didn't sign on for the sequel (he's credited on the story but Jeffrey Boam wrote the script) and, wow, are these characters awful now. All the fun that could be hand hanging out with them is gone. Now they most just abuse each other "as jokes" while the few times they get serious and person their dialogue has th leaden weight of a "very special episode." Although I think both Glover and Gibson (much as it pains me to say) are performing better in this film, the script totally lets them down.
But then the script lets everyone down as this is a god awful story. If we look at it: the drug dealers lose their shipment of gold coins, which they were transporting for... reasons. Don't really worry about it because the gold coins disappear from the movie after the first 15 minutes. The drug dealers then come for Murtaugh, but don't kill him (even though they could have). Our two detectives are pulled off the case, put on an unrelated case to keep them away, but now they're assigned to protect someone that, conveniently, is the money launderer for the drug dealers they were already chasing. Sure, okay.
One of the first things I wondered once this twist was thrown in was, "if the drug dealers have a money launderer, why were they ferrying around gold coins?" Leo works in cash, and has a whole elaborate setup via fake loans and lots of paperwork. Gold coins don't factor into any of that. Suer, you might think, "well Leo was with the Feds, so the dealers had to figure out something else. Why not gold coins?" But L.A. is huge and you're telling me the bad guys couldn't find some other money launderer? And, also, how did they get all those coins? They're illegal to import, for starters, and impossible to launder, and if they're selling drugs (and this is their drug money) then all their illicit gains should be in cash.
The next step is to say that the illegal gold coins were imported from South Africa so they could be turned into drugs and then the drugs would be sold, the cash laundered, and the money sent back to South Africa. That's an incredibly elaborate scheme to sell gold coins when there re plenty of black market dealers all over the world that will quickly offload gold coins for a pretty solid price (I'm assuming as I've never tried to sell illegal gold coins). Bear in mind, this is me trying to justify a plot that the movie itself never even bothers to justify.
You want an easier one: why is Leo with the cops? I get that he turned State's Evidence so he's under protective custody, but that should be the jobs of the Feds. There is never a chance in a million years that the DOJ would turn a known criminal associate working in L.A. over to L.A. cops. "Oh, well the Feds have to come in from out of town," is a dumb excuse because the FBI has field offices in every major city, and likely has at least three in L.A. (just due to the massive size of that city). If Leo was with the cops it would be for all of five minutes before a Fed showed up and black-bagged him away somewhere. Again, the plot makes no sense.
A lot of these problems could likely be traced back to the whole writing process. As noted, Shane Black created the story for this film but he didn't write the script. That's because Black's original sequel script, Play Dirty, was rejected by the producers and studio for being "too dark". They wanted a lighter, more family-friendly tone (and, in point of fact, had lightened up some aspects of Black's script for the first film as well). Black's sequel script was rejected, and then completely rewritten into a new script, and all the warts and all of this process can be seen on screen. No one knows how Black's version of the film would have turned out (his script has never been officially released despite the screen writer saying it was the best thing he'd ever written), but certainly the final product is much, much worse.
Honestly, start to finish this film is just tiring. It's pointless, it's stupid, and it's too silly for its own good. The studio did manage to deliver what fans wanted at the time -- more and bigger Lethal Weapon -- and it did gangbusters. Now, though, all these years later, I think it's fair to say that this movie is just bad. It might have had its fans at the time but there are better action cop movies out there... like Die Hard.