Know what makes Lethal Weapon special? Tradition, and respect for it. Each film was calculated to ensure space for running gags, characters, and plot threads. There’s a need to pay homage not just at random, but within the story itself. Riggs’ (Mel Gibson) shoulder, which can be dislocated at will, becomes an integral thread in his rumble against Jet Li here in Lethal Weapon 4. At times, it feels as if they planned this out decades in advance, the transition between films too smooth to believe otherwise.
There’s also the movie tradition of bolder sequels at work. Each film has opened with increasingly jaw dropping action, the third blowing up a building, the fourth detailing an encounter with a well-armored flamethrower wielding maniac. He is sent into a gas truck which blows up a gas station and then the truck’s canister goes aerial, lighting up a few cars on landing. It’s summer spectacle at its finest.
This is probably the weakest of the Lethal Weapon entries, only because it has so much to do and take notice of such a broadening set of characters. As if Joe Pesci wasn’t the franchise face of fast-talking loudmouths, in steps an equally abrasive Chris Rock to play a double card. The film also has the task of taking Jet Li from a State-side unknown to martial arts draw, and ironically in the same year as Jackie Chan would make his mega-push in Rush Hour.
Lethal Weapon 4 is louder and more intense by default, seeing the need to up the score to alleviate the inevitable audience drop-off. A freeway chase, another one of those franchise staples, is everything the series can be. Mel Gibson’s obvious stunt double not withstanding, the creativity used to send him careering down the highway on a table held to speed by a sheet of plastic is awesome. Minutes later, he’s back in a car with Murtaugh, smashing through the upper floor of an office building. Doubly awesome.
There’s evolution to the film too, Gibson ditching his scraggly mullet, creating a perception that he’s toned down. Family life (or soon to be family life) weighs on his actions, with little loss to his flashy, over-the-top methodology. Even if it’s not direct, Riggs is becoming a character that won’t be taking risks much longer. Part of it is age, and another is coming to terms with the loss that nearly made him take his own life. The elements wrap themselves up in a fancy, glittering bow.
One can chastise the series for leaving behind its roots. Comparisons of Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 4 revealing a dramatic shift in style and tone, although not necessarily through choice, just audience expectations. Few series ever reach a fourth entry without some damning change, and regardless of a renewed focus on high-energy action set pieces, no one in these films can properly perform a straight count of three. It’s still the Lethal Weapon we know and love.
A dozen year gap between films leaves Lethal Weapon 4 dangling out there as the most recent of the four, and even in terms of looks, these action comedies are not far from each other. Even with age working for instead of against it, black levels still have their lapses. Here though, they come during the subtitled dialogue which is forever part of the print. That added element softens and dims the image.
Dazzling sharpness is offered up by what appears to be a recent scan, although it’s unlikely. Age hasn’t taken the film stock quite yet. Close-ups are on par -or better- than the previous films, consistently impressing with their depth. The few establishing views are stable and well defined, even the moisture-riddled wood during the finale’s bridge fight producing vivid elements. That scene is at night under limited moonlight, further adding to the material.
Warner’s VC-1 encode doesn’t feel dated in the least, the later these movies become, the better their grain stock is at retreating. At this point, grain management has rendered it obsolete, but visible enough to avoid letting videophiles become up in arms. Whatever was done to lessen grain has no ill-effect on the end image. It’s far too crisp to throw up any warning signs.
Colors have begun a modern shift towards warmer hues, especially in the flesh tones. A lot of orange is being pushed around. Explosions have never been this bright in Lethal Weapon, part of that being the color, another part being a bright, intense contrast. You can’t miss a light source in this film; it doesn’t let you.
THIS is modern sound. It’s quite a bit of fun to track the origins of surround sound through this franchise, which began when stereo was such a modern thing, before falling to the lap of fully discreet mixes. The evolution can be felt in each subsequent Lethal Weapon, leading us to here where gunfire will pop, zip, and direct itself in perfect harmony with the on-screen action.
Opening credits seem to exist just to show off the modern conveniences, the logo bursting into flames that sprawl overhead, a hilarious transition into the encounter with the flamethrower maniac. Each time the trigger is pulled, the tank bursts open in the subwoofer, the fire tracking front to back as the element passes overhead. The explosions that follow? Awe-inspiring.
It’s one of those action mixes that makes it almost an impossibility to pinpoint any one successful element. They all work in tandem. Shoot-outs turn into panning-filled car chases, which turn into office destruction galore complete with debris hitting each channel, and a house fire is an array of popping windows as the flames find themselves hoarding the LFE. Fidelity doesn’t reveal any signs of aging.
Director Richard Donner is, for the first time, is joined by someone else (or two someones) on his commentary track. Director assistant Geoff Johns and co-producer J. Mills Goodloe have a chance here to make their thoughts known. Pure Lethal is a retrospective and making-of all rolled into one, made in 1998 to promote the release of the fourth film. It’s a half hour long. A couple of trailers are left.
Note there are more bonuses on the fifth disc in this set. This review only covers what is included on Lethal Weapon 4’s home disc.