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Review: Lethal Weapon 4

July 15, 1998

Jason MyersBy JASON MYERS

The fourth installment in the "Lethal Weapon" series begins with - anybody's favorite? - detectives Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) chasing after a postmodern version of the Tin Man. Some guy wearing the latest in aluminum fashion wields a flamethrower and a machine gun and has wreaked surreal havoc on a Los Angeles block. After a few not-so-close calls, our heros destroy the Tin Man, though not, of course, without a gas station exploding into the sky.

In the next scene, these crazy cops are out on a boat fishing for sharks with their friend and former criminal Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) when a boat lodging illegal Chinese immigrants and a handful of terrorists just happens to kiss the side of their watercraft. More quick, combustive action ensues.

There is plenty of violence in "Lethal Weapon 4" but not much of anything else; for instance, a coherent story line, interesting characters, believable dialogue ... in other words, the basic and accepted foundations for a film are missing in action, literally.

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The opening scene simply shimmers on the screen and drifts away into the haze of this oil-slick flick. This movie represents all that is wrong with the world of cinema. Each scene is a piece of trash unto itself, with no connection to the scene preceding or succeeding it.

Director Richard Donner ought to have to pay a fine for reckless endangerment of the art once known as filmmaking. What he has fashioned, mean and nasty, resembles more a "greatest hits" clip-show than it does a movie. Which is basically what "Lethal Weapon 4" is: a rigorous rush through the formula "banter, blow stuff up; banter, blow stuff up."

The exchanges between Gibson and Glover are barely glib and certainly not humorous. New cop Chris Rock is loud and obnoxious to compete with Pesci; the two engage in a disquisition on cellular phones that is about as clever as a Gumpism.

Every aspect of the film assaults you with bravado and impersonality. The makers had to be trying to make a movie nobody would care about. Do lovers actually call each other by their last names?

Gibson and Rene Russo do; everybody does. You would think first names are no longer chic. Perhaps all the emphasis on last names is on account of the plot - I'm being generous calling it that - involving Chinese clans and crooks, as the family takes priority in their culture.

Since Donner and crew exploit just about every Chinese stereotype (I think they even invent a few new ones), they may as well use one more. The most menacing man in the film (aside from Joe Pesci) tells his family, freshly released from Chinese prison in a comprehensive conspiracy explained in about 15 seconds near the end of the movie, "America has many laws, but written by men." As opposed to laws written by gerbils, which I suppose are more pure.

"Lethal Weapon 4" punishes the viewer so much that it hurts to write about it. My eyes are still sore from the sheen that comprised the movie's visual style when the screen was not inundated by the reds and oranges of fire and death. My brain is numb from trying to fill the plot holes and empty lives of characters bearing no resemblance to human beings. If there is another "Lethal Weapon" movie, my legs will be swift walking away from it.

Jason Myers is a 1998 graduate of North Hagerstown High School.

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