Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

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*. I’ve written before about the phenomenon of “franchise bloat.” This is the process of inflation whereby each sequel in a franchise gets longer, more expensive, and so cluttered with characters and other material from the earlier films that has to keep being carried over that the whole enterprise starts to sink under its own weight.
*. A good example are the MarvelCrap superhero movies (see my notes on The Avengers) or the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (see my notes on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End). An even earlier instance, however, is the Lethal Weapon tetralogy.
*. So Leo Getz is back again, and even doing his “they fuck you with the ____” routine (this time with cell phones). Rene Russo’s Lorna is back, and pregnant. Even the police psychiatrist, a pointless character with only a line or two in each of the earlier films, returns for another scene here, serving no purpose at all that I can see.

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*. This is a series that seems incapable of letting anything go. Remember how Dirty Harry got a dog, the bulldog Meathead in Sudden Impact, but in The Dead Pool it had disappeared with no explanation? Well, in this movie we have Riggs’s original dog, plus the Rotweiler he picked up in Lethal Weapon 3, all living together in one happy doggy household. They have to get their scene too. No one is left out.
*. Even the tag line “I’m getting too old for this shit” gets recycled, this time by Riggs. Talk about things coming full circle.
*. The franchise acts like a snowball, picking up accretions as it keeps rolling downhill because with every turn something new has to be added to the formula. Like Chris Rock here. Can you doubt that if there’d been a Lethal Weapon 5 he would have been included?
*. About the only thing that’s lighter is Riggs’s head. It must have been a relief for Mel to finally join the ’90s and get a haircut.
*. Danny Glover. I was wondering whatever happened to him and then checked his filmography online and saw that he’s been incredibly busy appearing in a lot of third-rate stuff. It’s hard to figure. He was really good in these movies. Did yeoman work in Predator 2. A dramatic turn in The Color Purple. Showed up and had some fun in Saw. You’d think he would have been in some bigger, better stuff.
*. What on earth does it mean when Murtaugh keeps yelling “Will it to me, Riggs!” and “Will me!” at the end? I’d never heard that expression before and I’ve never heard it since. I guess it has something to do with psychically signaling each other, so that he can “hear” Riggs calling underwater. But that, as they like to say throughout the series, is thin.

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*. If you liked the first three movies then you’ll probably like this one too. More explosions and chase scenes, even more expensively produced. Things get started with a tremendous bang as an outlandish figure in a suit of armour and a flamethrower is fired like a missile into a fuel tanker. There’s a terrific sequence that plays out on the highway that juggles a bunch of novel elements. Jet Li (cast against type as the villain, because Jackie Chan wouldn’t play a bad guy) is the leader of a Chinese gang, which means we finally get to see some real martial arts being performed. There are a couple of references to the O. J. Simpson trial that I doubt many young people will get today. In another ten years they will go over everybody’s heads.
*. Even with all the extra padding — I think I could have found at least a half hour of cuts, including getting rid of Rene Russo entirely (not because I dislike her but just because there’s no point in her being here) — I still wouldn’t have any trouble rating this as a solid enough outing but for the ending. The final act drags out for nearly twenty minutes! And nothing about Riggs and Lorna getting married and Lorna having a baby is funny or interesting at all. In fact, with all of Lorna’s demands to get married before she’ll give birth I was hoping one of the nurses would sedate her and have done with it. Before long everyone seems hysterical and is screaming and it’s all perfectly terrible. I was cringing through the whole thing before the credits finally came, mercifully, in the form of a rather self-indulgent photo album.
*. That’s a long way from ending on a high note, but it does have the virtue of drawing a line under the series. There has been talk of a reboot, but it hasn’t materialized as of this writing. A television series debuted in 2016, for no other reason I can think of other than to cash in on the name since there was never anything original or unique about the franchise. Re-watching all of these movies twenty and even thirty years later, that’s something I feel more than ever. I’m too old for this shit.

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