“I’m really too old for this shit.”
Is it wrong that I almost like LETHAL WEAPON 2 better than part 1? I know it’s kinda formulaic and Shane Black left part way through and everything but to me it’s a really enjoyable follow-up with some great gimmicks.
It states its action-with-a-comedic-edge intent from the opening logo when it plays the Looney Tunes music with the dramatic metal title lettering. Credits forged in steel. Then it opens mid-high-speed car chase with Riggs cackling like a madman, i.e. like Riggs. We get to have our cake and eat our cake also because he hasn’t wanted to commit suicide since the end of part 1, but he’s still a nut. To underline that point we get to see him wearing a straitjacket at the police station. He takes a bet that he can’t escape from one, and is crazy enough to intentionally dislocate his shoulder to pull it off.
I noticed in part 1 that the Murtaugh family had an anti-apartheid bumper sticker on their refrigerator. That shows that they’re a politically active family in some ways, so in this one they discuss boycotting tuna (there was a big thing back then about tuna fishing nets killing dolphins), and Leo (Joe Pesci), an obnoxious mob accountant turned state’s evidence that they get assigned to protect, talks apolitically about hating tuna on his sandwich. I really think Richard Donner was trying to overall just give you a bad feeling about tuna to save the dolphins.
(time capsule moment: the tuna conversation happens at a Subway restaurant that actually has a parking lot and a drive-thru window.)
There’s also a whole subplot about Murtaugh’s daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) starring in a commercial that turns out to be for condoms. It’s used to humiliate Murtaugh, of course, but also it was kind of a liberal cause back then to promote safe sex and open dialogue about it.
I wouldn’t say everything is politics to the Murtaughs though. In one scene we can catch a glimpse of their VHS collection, all Warner Brothers releases I believe. Titles include SO FINE, a Saturday Night Live, PALE RIDER, and SOUL MAN. I mean, they can’t be that radical if they like SOUL MAN enough to own it. Maybe they bought it for research I guess.
To me the most inspired thing about the movie is that the villains are white South Africans, old politically connected guys, deeply entrenched in the apartheid system. So here we have America’s premiere interracial buddy cop team going up against the ultimate contemporary representation of racial segregation. What could be more perfect?
I never really thought about it before, but it’s interesting that other action movies of the ’80s, at least that I can think of, didn’t use white South Africans as bad guys. Here was a well-known and easy to understand example of evil in the world that would be easy to single out. But there were some people in American government, including Reagan and Cheney, who figured the South African government were okay because they were against pinkos, and action movies looked the other way too. LETHAL WEAPON 2’s villains take advantage of similar protections: their leader is an ambassador and shields his drug smuggling operation behind claims of diplomatic immunity. And it works.
While part 1 was pretty much color-blind, part 2 does a nice job of showing this topic’s personal effect on Murtaugh. When they realize the guys they’re chasing are South African (after first confusing their language on the radio for Japanese!) the first thing Riggs thinks of is how it connects to their finding a trunk full of South African currency earlier.
“South Africa, right? The home of the Krugerrand,” he says.
“Yeah, among other things,” Murtaugh adds bitterly.
Apartheid was a major injustice going on in the world, and Riggs and Murtaugh did their part to shame them for it. Riggs repeatedly taunts them with Nazi comparisons, calling their leader “Adolph” and referring to them as “the master race.” There’s a funny scene where Murtaugh pretends he wants to emigrate to South Africa, putting the guy at the embassy in the awkward position of having to advise against it. (I wonder what would’ve happened if they did that scene BORAT style at the real embassy.)
There’s other interesting stuff going on too, or at least weird stuff. Remember in the first one there was that shootout at the mansion and the guy fell into the swimming pool? It seems like somebody decided swimming pool related action was one of the keys to the success of the movie, so they continued that motif for the sequel. There’s a great scene where Riggs tackles an attempted Leo-killer out a hotel window and plummets 7 stories into a swimming pool. Later, to ambush the bad guys, he pretends to be a pool cleaner. When confronted he uses a pool cleaning net as a weapon. It would be cool if each sequel had one more pool-related scene, but I think this was it for the series. Anyway, if I was to assign a meaning to it I guess I would say that the swimming pools represent luxury. Swimming pools and pool cleaners are part of life for the rich and powerful, not for working class cops like Riggs and Murtaugh.
Another play off of what happened before: part 1 had a helicopter attack on Tom Atkins’ seaside mansion, this one has a helicopter attack on Riggs’ beachfront trailer.
There are definitely parts that aren’t great. I was kind of bothered by Riggs trashing a grocery store as a way to flirt with the South African embassy secretary (Patsy Kensit) who he ends up falling in love with. But for the most part it’s well constructed in the way I like an action movie to be. I like how the straitjacket trick sets up for his escape at the end when they tie him up and throw him in the water. They didn’t know they were dealing with Houdini, but we did. Even better, in that scene where Riggs pretends to be the pool cleaner they point out that the place couldn’t have a pool because it’s on stilts. So this has already been drawn attention to and then we forget about it long before he decides to chain his truck to the stilts and pull the whole thing down. This is a really impressive scene because it’s not a special effect. They built a full-scale house and wrecked it. I also like that he cheers for himself after he does it, like he pulled off a hail mary pass and unexpectedly won the big game.
And that’s just one of the fun action mayhem moments. There’s a guy getting his head bashed repeatedly in a car door. There’s the climax, jumping a car out of a trailer full of money (turning the villains’ loot into snow just like the end of DIE HARD). In a car crash there’s the excellent detail of a surfboard flying off of one vehicle and crashing through the window of another. And I’m particularly fond of the part where a woman bouncing on a diving board sets off a bomb. That was a definite rewind-two-or-three-times-to-see-how-the-fuck-they-did-that stunt moment. Hats off to that stunt woman.
One of the most memorable moments is when Murtaugh gets stuck on the toilet because he finds out there’s a bomb that’s gonna go off if he gets up. I knew it’s one of the most memorable moments because it says so in this vintage Warner Brothers Catalog entry:
Here’s more of the products that were available:
Yes, those are cast members of Head of the Class selling DIRTY HARRY t-shirts. Oh yeah, and one of them was the kid that played Short Round in TEMPLE OF DOOM. The guy modelling the LW2 hat and shirt is identified as “‘Lethal Weapon 2’ stunt coordinator and Mel Gibson double Mic Rodgers.” He later directed UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN, the one where Van Damme is alive again and has a daughter and fights Bill Goldberg and Michael Jai White.
The toilet paper message is from the bad guys of course, but it’s another one in the tradition of Riggs’s note on the Christmas tree and McClane’s note on the dead guy who he stole the machine gun from and stuck in the elevator. The whole situation though reminds me of the opening scene of Elmore Leonard’s Freaky Deaky:
The phone must have rung fifteen times before Booker got out of the Jacuzzi, put on his green satin robe that matched the emerald pinned to his left earlobe and picked up the phone. Booker said, “Who’s this?” A woman’s voice said, “You sitting down?” The phone was on a table next to a green leather wingback chair. Booker loved green. He said, “Baby, is that you?” It sounded like his woman, Moselle. Her voice said, “Are you sitting down? You have to be sitting down for when I tell you something.” Booker said, “Baby, you sound different. What’s wrong?” He sat down in the green leather chair, frowning, working his butt around to get comfortable. The woman’s voice said, “Are you sitting down?” Booker said, “I am. I have sat the fuck down. Now you gonna talk to me, what?” Moselle’s voice said, “I’m suppose to tell you that when you get up, honey, what’s left of your ass is gonna go clear through the ceiling.
It might not be a coincidence, because that book came out the year before. But they use the idea well here. That Murtaugh is taking a shit when the shit goes down is not only toilet humor, it also works because it makes him so vulnerable. One of Murtaugh’s primary roles in these movies is to be embarrassed, and you can’t get much worse than dozens of his colleagues, including women, coming in and acting all professional while he can’t do anything and he’s on the john with his pants down. Riggs gets some laughs in but becomes protective of Murtaugh and his privacy. And against the protests of the bomb squad he insists on staying there and being the one to help Murtaugh with the escape plan, which is just to jump into the lead lined bath tub and hope it protects them from the explosion (do you hear that, CRYSTAL SKULL skeptics?) They get to have some laughs first, some gallows humor about what they’re about to do, and then they do it, and it’s the terrified-action-hero moment, like McClane jumping off the building with the hose around his waist.
But the most significant thing is that Riggs stays and they do it together. Just looking at it as a cop movie this means Riggs is tough and loyal, he believes it is his duty to try to save his partner, he’s fearless, etc. But in context of the series we know that not long ago he was suicidal and it was his friendship with Murtaugh that turned his life around. So he has no reason to worry about himself, he has to save Murtaugh or his own life turns to shit again. This is how he wants it: either he saves Murtaugh or he dies with him. This scene is about pooping, exploding, and brotherhood. Throw in some boobs and you got everything men want in a movie, am I right ladies?
I like this Leo guy’s connection with Riggs and Murtaugh. He’s kind of like the little yapping dog who follows them around, obnoxious in a way that, to me anyway, is actually pretty funny. And at the end when he says “I really had alot of fun” and goes for a hug he seems so sincere that it’s kinda sweet.
But it’s not all fun times. It’s weirdly harsh at one point. Riggs falls in love for the first time since his wife died, then (SPOILER) the bad guys kill his new lady. Almost worse, they boastfully reveal that they caused the car accident that killed his wife! It’s kind of silly to rewrite the backstory that way, but they get away with it ’cause it’s so cold-hearted. Such a mean thing to do to the hero in the middle of a mostly fun and humorous movie. “You don’t understand,” he says. “They killed ’em both.” It’s brutal.
But I guess operatic tragedy like that gives more meaning to the smaller human moments. Yeah, my favorite parts are probly the stilts coming down and the exploding diving board. But my third favorite part is a scene where Riggs just has a conversation with Murtaugh’s wife Trish (Darlene Love). He still lives in that trailer, but he spends alot of time at their house, coming over for dinner and bringing his laundry and stuff, and has become part of the family. And in this scene he tells Trish about the night his wife died, and how he found out. He’s allowing her into his life, sharing with her the worst thing that ever happened to him, and they’re becoming closer friends. I like it when an action movie tries something really heart-on-its-sleeve like this, and I like it even better when it works.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.