Published July 1, 1998
Lethal Weapon 4 was, according to the credits, directed by Richard Donner, but it might as well have been directed by a computer. Here is the perfect summer blockbuster movie in which the formulae perfected in the first three installments in the series are employed once again, the explosions and the hair-breadth escapes are even more spectacular, the one-liners come even more thick and fast and the story-telling is so perfunctory that it doesn’t even bother pretending to be coherent or plausible. Just as Something About Mary is a succession of jokes, so Lethal Weapon 4 is a succession of violent episodes. In neither case is the target audience of 13 to 17 year olds going to complain about an absence of plot.
As is also becoming customary with summer blockbusters, the best bit has already been seen in the preview, which is another excuse for the reluctant moviegoer to avoid it. We see a guy with a bulletproof suit and flamethrower and an automatic weapon—but with no apparent motivation—washing down a deserted street in flame as if from a garden hose. Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtagh (Danny Glover) appear on the scene and are instantly pinned down, their weapons ineffective against the suit. Riggs instructs Murtagh to strip down to his shorts and dance while flapping his arms like a chicken. While he is thus distracting the bad guy’s attention, Riggs shoots the valve on the back of the tank which launches the man like a rocket into a nearby gasoline truck and the two together proceed skyward. Murtagh, relieved at the escape from danger asks if his chicken dance did the trick. “Naw,” says Riggs. “I just wanted to see if you would do it.”
It’s all in a day’s work, presumably, since there is no attempt to link this episode with what passes for the main plot. This has something to do with a Chinese martial artist and near-superman (Jet Li) involved in slave trading (that gets Murtagh’s dander up!), counterfeiting, racketeering and murder but whose first love appears to be emulating the kind of old-time movie villains who used to tie maidens to railroad tracks instead of resorting to a reliable but undeniably boring double-tap between the eyes with a Glock. So he and his gang, having got the better of Riggs, Murtagh and both their growing families and tied them up in Murtagh’s house, set fire to the house and leave them to their apparent fate.
It is rather touching to me that, even though the gals are presented, in accordance with the Hollywood rules, as being quite as tough and deadly fighters as the guys, the masculine protective instinct is called into play by the fact that Riggs’s girlfriend (René Russo) and Murtagh’s unmarried daughter are pregnant at the time of their intended roasting. But the artificiality of the situation and the certainty of their rescue (sorry to all morons for spoiling it for you) hardly make for any real suspense at their peril or joy in their deliverance. We must content ourselves with what satisfaction there is to be gained from the fact that both prospective mothers are in the end made honest women of, as they used to say in the days when maidens were tied to railroad tracks.