Lethal Weapon 4

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Lethal Weapon
Our hero in a fight to the death
with the villain.
Lethal Weapon 4 is martial arts star Jet Li's first American film. While it gives him a good opportunity to show off his impressive skills, and even exercise his acting chops, the movie itself is just not all that great. For one thing, despite the fact that Jet Li is the hero, way too much screen time is devoted to the film's large number of villains.

The main bad guys are out- of-control cops Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). For the last three movies these two guys have been violating American citizens' rights and even taking the trouble to violate the basic human rights of people who were citizens of other countries. By this movie their decadent ways are catching up with them: both Rigg's girlfriend and Murtagh's daughter are pregnant out of wedlock.

This film also features the unwanted return of Leo Getz, played by Joe Pesci. Pesci can be very funny, but he really should be used in smaller doses than he is here. We would have to admit that the fact that he manages to deliver his final "serious" speech (an absolutely ridiculous story about his boyhood pet frog) without breaking into laughter proves to us that he deserves that Oscar he won. A much funnier presence in the film is Chris Rock, as a cop named Lee Butters. He improvised almost all of his dialogue, and it's all hilarious. Butters spends most of his time on screen kissing up to Murtaugh, because he's in love with the older policeman's daughter. We were kind of hoping it was a ruse by Butters to infiltrate Murtaugh's family on behalf of Li's heroic character, but alas, this was not to be.

Lethal Weapon
"I dunno Riggs, do you think maybe if I
didn't do stuff like run around naked with
a firearm, my daughter wouldn't be
knocked up?"
Back to the important stuff. Jet Li plays Wah Sing Ku, a triad member from mainland China who's trying to reunite his family. Sure, he's also into counterfeiting money, but we're pretty sure he gives generously to the poor in his spare time. We just don't see him do it. And sure, he seemingly kills some innocent people, but we're pretty sure those people did really bad things we didn't see. This is probably the closest we've ever seen the usually heroic Jet Li play an evil character, and he does it very well. But we know he's not evil, becuase he's Jet Li and he's the hero.

Li made such a good impression on American preview audiences that his name and face were added to the newspaper ads at the last minute. A pretty notable accomplishment, considering the huge number of established stars that were already in the crowded poster. (Another bonus for U.S. fans of Jet: Jet Li doesn't usually do his voice in his Cantonese films, so this movie is a good opportunity to hear his real voice.)

The plot of Lethal Weapon 4 is pretty scattershot, even by Lethal Weapon standards. Towards the end of the film the story falls apart totally, and we as an audience are left to take it as read that all the major characters will end up in a warehouse at the end of the film and have a fight. Why they're all there, and what they're fighting about, we're not sure. What we do know is that it's great fun to watch Jet Li beat the crap out of Mel Gibson before setting Danny Glover's house on fire.

Lethal Weapon
"Hey, I'm the comic relief in this movie!"
"No, I am! I was here first!"
Perhaps part of the reason the plot is incoherent is that Lethal Weapon 4 was made very quickly by American standards. For this reason much of the dialgoue was improvised. Some of the action scenes seem improvised too, especially the "car through the building" gag. Notice that when the car lands after emerging from the other side of the building, the building is nowhere to be seen. A little special effects magic might have sold the stunt better.

Jet Li has always been his own best special effect, and despite the fact that this is an American movie, the martial arts scenes are quite good. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that Corey Yuen, a well-regarded action director in Hong Kong, worked on the fight choreography. The final fight is particularly good. In keeping with their villianous natures, Riggs and Murtaugh make a cowardly assault on Wah with a forklift, a pistol, a pointy metal thing and an assault rifle, and they still feel the need to double-team him. But Wah fights back and nearly beats them anyway.

"Nearly beats," of course, because the greatest indignity of this picture is the fact that, like all the other Lethal Weapon films, the evil Murtaugh and Riggs actually win the day. Despite an Herculean effort by Li's character, the badly aging dastardly duo actually manage to get the better of him, killing our poor hero before moving on to other evil deeds involving some stupid mumbo-jumbo about telepathy via male bonding -- or something like that.

Lethal Weapon 4 seems to be the last in the Lethal Weapon series. Yet again we see the ruin that Riggs and Murtaugh leave behind all across the landscape of California. At least this movie featured a hero we could root for.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 1/27/98

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