Plot missing in 'Lethal Weapon 4' Review: When Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and the usual suspects got together for 'Lethal Weapon 4' they brought their derring-do, but they left their plot behind.

July 10, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

If you're one of the stars of "Lethal Weapon 4," if you were on the crew of "Lethal Weapon 4," if your brother worked on "Lethal Weapon 4," you're gonna love "Lethal Weapon 4," a rip-snorting thrill ride that's more a self-indulgent frat party than a movie.

Too bad audiences are going to feel left out, particularly audiences with a fondness for plot or pacing.

Even more than its predecessors, "Lethal Weapon 4" is a bunch of set pieces strung together with the slimmest of threads, explosions followed by crashes followed by fisticuffs followed by more explosions.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are back as Riggs and Murtaugh, the Laurel and Hardy of big-budget shoot-'em-ups. And they haven't changed one bit since 1987's "Lethal Weapon." Riggs is still fearless and completely whacked-out, while Murtaugh is still complaining that he's too old for this stuff.

Other familiar faces include Joe Pesci as Leo Getz, the human nerve end, and Rene Russo as Lorna Cole, Riggs' love interest. Chris Rock brings plenty of energy to the role of Lee Butters, a junior detective who simply rubs Murtaugh the wrong way. Rock's riff on telephones is the comic high-point.

The film opens with Riggs and Murtaugh up against a guy in bulletproof armor torching a downtown street. Why is never even suggested. The only thing that matters is that he meets the minimum requirements for "Lethal Weapon" villains -- be nasty and do your business near something that can make a big bang (in this case, a gas tanker parked conveniently nearby).

Once this opening salvo is launched, the plot -- such as it is -- kicks in, as our boys stumble onto a Chinese slave ship and find themselves on the wrong side of the Asian Triad, a group of bad guys that make the Mafia seem like Cub Scouts.

The chief baddie is played by Jet Li, a Chinese actor who, in his American film debut, leaves a more lasting impression than any of the big-name stars. He's a menacing martial-arts master who moves with the grace of a cat and the ferocity of a rattlesnake. He's bad news all around, and a joy to watch.

The real star here, however, is Richard Donner, who proves again that he's one of Hollywood's best action directors. But Richard, hey, we get the point. Remember, you're making a movie, not building a roller coaster. "Lethal Weapon 4" never lets up, to the point where the experience becomes more exhausting than thrilling. The film is polished to a high gloss, and it's clear everyone had fun making it; a sort of family photo album displayed behind the closing credits emphasizes the point.

Too bad we all couldn't have been there for the party; watching it second-hand just isn't the same.

'Lethal Weapon 4'

Starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover

Directed by Richard Donner

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (language, violence)

Running time 125 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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