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Lethal Weapon 2

I already wrote about LETHAL WEAPON 2 along with the rest of the LETHAL WEAPON series back in 2014. I’m still happy with that review. It covers much of what’s relevant about the movie, and even features a scan from my beloved Summer 1989 Warner Brothers Catalog (as seen in the BATMAN review). But I didn’t think I should skip over the movie in this series because it’s such a crucial piece of what I’m talking about here. So the earlier review still stands, but here’s a partially overlapping supplemental look at LETHAL WEAPON 2 focusing on its place in the action movies of summer ’89.

LETHAL WEAPON (1987) was of course a quintessential ’80s action movie, the Platonic ideal of a buddy cop picture, and one of the originators of the idea of Mel Gibson and producer Joel Silver (ROAD HOUSE) as action kings. But part 2 is more my idea of what “a LETHAL WEAPON movie” is like because it invented how to sequelize that movie and make it about the continuing adventures of that now-established friendship. It takes what was already seen as heightened and makes it bigger, sexier, funnier, lethal-er (apparently it’s the biggest body count in the series at 33), creating a template (and new character in Leo Getz, played by Joe Pesci a year before GOODFELLAS) that would be used for two more sequels in the ’90s.

One obvious personnel connection to other movies of the summer is composer Michael Kamen (FOR QUEEN & COUNTRY, RENEGADES, ROAD HOUSE). Since the first LETHAL he’d become action’s premiere composer simply by scoring action’s premiere movie, DIE HARD. The score of LETHAL WEAPON was itself a buddy pairing between Kamen’s bombastic orchestra and Eric Clapton’s white-bluesy guitar noodling. For part 2 they add in smooth saxophonist David Sanborn, so in my opinion the sax represents Leo.

I don’t know – it fits the whole LETHAL WEAPON vibe. It works. But there’s something kinda comical about squawking saxophone used as a horror sting as one of our heroes is ambushed by attackers in ski masks.

(In other music news, this was the week that Milli Vanilli’s “Baby, Don’t Forget My Number” ceded the #1 spot to “Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals.)

An arguably more important connection: Paul Abascal was the hairstylist for both this and ROAD HOUSE. Abascal’s experience as one of the world’s greatest mullet wranglers famously led to him taking over as director on PAYBACK, and later directing the Mel Gibson produced action-star-avenges-sleazy-photographers thriller PAPARAZZI (which will always hold a dear place in my heart as the review that Titan’s legal department wouldn’t allow me to include in Yippee Ki Yay Moviegoer because it speculated that Gibson had committed a series of vigilante murders during the filming of this movie).

We started this review series with RED SCORPION, the Dolph Lundgren movie produced by Republican operatives in covert cooperation with the apartheid-era South African government and military to warn about the spread of communism in Africa. LETHAL director Richard Donner was also interested in putting political and social messages in his action movies. At the time there was concern about dolphins being killed by tuna nets, so the Murtaugh family is boycotting tuna (and Leo also apolitically talks about hating tuna sandwiches). The subplot about Murtaugh being embarrassed by his daughter (Tracie Wolfe) appearing in a condom commercial works as a riff on generational change and his uptightness, but I suspect Donner also wanted it in there for safe sex visibility, another thing that seemed somewhat progressive at the time.

Most crucially, and most opposite of RED SCORPION, this is a movie where the violent-drug-dealers-protected-by-diplomatic-immunity villains are racist white South Africans. As I discussed in the other review, it’s amazing that this didn’t become a common action movie trope. Could movie producers have worried it would contradict their years of gleefully machine-gunning commies? As I noted before, the producers of RED SCORPION weren’t the only ones willing to look the other way and sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for the racists who are willing to help them out. Republicans including the Cheney family, while not openly supporting the horrendous racial segregation, called Nelson Mandela (played by Glover in a 1987 HBO movie) a terrorist, or claimed the divestment he called for would only hurt his people, and considered South Africa an ally in fighting communism. Though “communism” was the government’s smear for anyone who fought for racial equality.

To their credit, there were plenty of Republicans on the right side of history on this. Senator Richard Lugar, for example, helped organize 31 out of 64 Republican Senators to join all 47 Democrats in overriding Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Despite that loss, Reagan (who used the argument that apartheid was real bad but this was not the way to fight it) never complied with all the sanctions. His successor George H.W. Bush committed to full enforcement in ’89, almost definitely for sure I am positive because he saw LETHAL WEAPON 2 [citation needed].

I think Donner was right to assume everybody who wasn’t a fucking asshole could enjoy the idea of pro-apartheid villains. I did find one contemporary example of someone being offended by it, and it was some guy on a bulletin board who blamed the movie on the Jews – at least I think that’s what he means by “(((the usual hollywood suspects)))” – and wonders what Gibson, having had a “radical change of view against (((them))),” thinks of the movie now.

To non-fucking-assholes, though, there’s something beautiful about the ’80s’ most iconic black-white buddy duo fighting criminals who happen to be segregationists. I also love the gradual way they introduce the subject into the movie. When a car chase mysteriously leads to a trunkful of South African currency, and then there’s a seemingly unrelated run-in with South Africans, Riggs says, “South Africa. Home of the Krugerrand.”

To him it’s a clue. To Murtaugh it’s more personal. “Among other things,” he says.

In scenes at the South African Embassy, it becomes more explicit. Riggs holds an “END APARTHEID NOW” sign with protesters at the entrance to the building, though he’s only doing it as a means to stare down and intimidate the chief villain, Rudd (Joss Ackland, who played a Nazi in HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS and Russian in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER). Murtaugh has a funnier scene where he pretends he wants to emigrate to South Africa, causing discomfort and confusion before launching into a righteous tirade.

In the end, Rudd is killed by his trailer full of money. A nice symbol for the divestment movement. We don’t need to trade with you fuckers. I don’t remember if part 3 ever addresses the fact that they went rogue and killed an ambassador. How did they get away with that?

A few unsourced claims on IMDb I found intriguing:

1. “Shown unscheduled on Australian television the night Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa.”
2. The movie played uncut in South Africa and was a hit

I’d really like to know if #2 is really true, but I couldn’t find any information about it. I did come across an archived episode of a show called South Africa Now that (starting at 17:35) reports on the movie using South African villains. But it doesn’t get into it at all, and I think it’s a show for southern African countries, not just South Africa. Another episode uses a clip of Murtaugh and Leo in the embassy alongside Jesse Jackson, DO THE RIGHT THING, Stetsasonic and Chuck D in a report on the trend of afrocentricity in the U.S. That was a cool time capsule.

I also found many references to later South African president F.W. de Klerk being inspired by Glover and the movie to begin dismantling apartheid, some even saying he used the phrase “one man, one vote” as a slogan after seeing Murtaugh use it in the movie. I’m skeptical, and could only find various repeats and paraphrases of the same trivia item, no original source. But the book Mandela: The Authorized Biography by Anthony Sampson at least references the movie as a sign of world opinion turning against the country. “And in the meantime the Afrikaners were becoming more isolated than ever, as the world’s scapegoats: in a blockbuster movie of 1989, Lethal Weapon 2, the villains had Afrikaner accents.”

I still really like this movie, and it’s fun to be able to root for diversity and against racial oppression through the medium of action movie. But I gotta admit it’s a little disingenuous, or at least naive, as presented, and not because of Gibson’s later infamy. There are a bunch of scenes about workplace camaraderie: people at the station joking around, playing pranks on each other, making silly bets, getting together for poker. I love that in the scene where the cops taunt Murtaugh by leaving a condom-covered tree on his desk, after they walk away his anger melts away and he laughs about it. These scenes organically set us up for later events (the upsetting assassinations of a bunch of these officers, the ability of Riggs to escape bondage by dislocating his shoulder), but they’re also just a fun, feel good portrayal of white and black officers who love, respect and count on each other.

And I’m sure there’s some truth to that, but less than two years after this the beating of Rodney King woke those who were sleeping to horrendous racial issues in the real life Los Angeles Police Department – problems that have continued to repeat themselves in other departments around the country for decades. So let’s not get too cocky here, America.

Also, there’s a line where the South Africans’ money stash is referred to as “Millions! Billions! A fuckin Donald Trump lotto!” Kind of ironic today, since Trump and his party have been so dedicated to securing minority rule in America through voter suppression, gerrymandering and rigging the census against “Democrats and non-Hispanic whites.”

Original screenwriter Shane Black gets a “story by” credit (along with REMO WILLIAMS novelist Warren Murphy), but his script was famously too dark for Donner. It has not been leaked, but it is known to have had Riggs sacrificing his life to save the Murtaugh family. Black has said it had Leo (but only in one scene), and it had Riggs pulling down the stilt house. Interestingly, it was Jeffrey Boam who did the many rewrites to make it more light-hearted. That’s the same guy who wrote INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, so he had a pretty good summer.

Not only that, but KARATE KID PART III screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen claims to have done some script doctoring on it. Although many sources refer to the villains in Black’s script as South African, Kamen told our friend Fred Topel (in the same interview I quoted for KK III) that it was his idea:

I wrote on lots and lots of films where I took no credit. Lots. But I did this for five years at Warner Bros. On Lethal 2, the whole idea of the South African villains was all my stuff because I had just come back from South Africa researching this film The Power of One that I wrote.

He later received credit on LETHAL WEAPON 3, so at least part of his story seems to check out.

Like LAST CRUSADE, this sequel is largely constructed of funny character bits stringing together a series of spectacular stunt sequences. Instead of flying around the world they’re just driving around L.A., but it opens with a big car chase, it has a fall from a tall hotel into a swimming pool, Murtaugh shoots a guy with an overly established nail gun, his toilet explodes, Jeanette Goldstein (ALIENS) gets blown up on a diving board, Riggs is attacked by machine gun guys in a helicopter, and he yanks that house down with his pick up truck, among other things. One cool stunt I noticed involves Riggs running and climbing onto a moving tow truck. It looks like it’s a stuntman and then Gibson in the same shot? And then Gibson for real on a moving truck.

Stunt coordinator (and Gibson double, as shown in that WB catalog) Mic Rogers had previously doubled Gibson in LETHAL WEAPON and TEQUILA SUNRISE. He also did stunts in ROAD HOUSE. In addition to sticking with Gibson for BIRD ON A WIRE, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and 3, BRAVEHEART, CONSPIRACY THEORY, PAYBACK , THE PATRIOT and APOCALYPTO, he was the stunt coordinator for THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and director of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN. ROAD HOUSE’s Charlie Picerni is also credited as stunt coordinator.

Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (THE HUNGER, THE COTTON CLUB, BATMAN & ROBIN) was actually born in South Africa, but moved to London as a child.


Followed by two sequels and a recast/reboot TV series. Boam went on to write THE PHANTOM. In 1990, Glover starred in PREDATOR 2, also produced by Silver. Apartheid ended in 1994.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 17th, 2019 at 10:18 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Lethal Weapon 2”

  1. My favorite thing about Lethal Weapon 2 is that Riggs threatens to fuck the villains on more than occasion.

  2. I’m glad Vern’s double-dipping in this summer series – some movies definitely deserve new reviews that change with the times and this is one of them. Anyways, I rewatched the whole series recently and even though this is commonly regarded as the best one, for me it was missing the freshness and character introductions of the first one, and the full-circle finality of the last one. That’s not a knock on it – I know you can only have two adversaries fall in brotherly love once, and you can only have them ride off into the sunset together once. That being said, as a middle-chapter/sequel, this is absolutely perfect- it’s almost like Aliens how it feels like an expertly formulated blend of “kinda the same thing, but different”. The good shit from the first one is bigger and better, and the new stuff (like adding Leo and giving Riggs a love interest) makes it feel fresh while still feeling like the same series. Speaking of which, I kinda love that the first movie never had a car chase, so this movie just starts in medias res of a big car chase as if they’re addressing it, meta-style.

    The only thing that really bothered me this time was Rika’s death. No, not because she got “fridged” (btw, that would never happen today and the internet would demand that Rika show “agency” by kicking a dude in the nuts or something). I’m bothered because WTF was Riggs thinking dropping Rika off at her own apartment after the helicopter attack?!? Like, you’re not going to take her to the police station? And Rika says “i’m going to quit first thing tomorrow”. You’re going to still go to the office after your boss sent a bunch of goons/coworkers to machine gun a cop? It’s not a dealbreaker or anything but it’s a curiously sloppy part in a generally tight script.

  3. Yeah, that was pretty ridiculous. I do think it’s charming when he drops her off and leaves so happy, in the middle of a school boy crush. But you’re right, it doesn’t fit there at all.

  4. “For part 2 they add in smooth saxophonist David Sanborn, so in my opinion the sax represents Leo.”

    I haven’t finished this review yet but I had to stop and say that Sanborn was on the first soundtrack, too. He handled all of Murtaugh’s themes while Clapton did Riggs’. Kamen did everything else. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it worked for all the sequels, too.

  5. “And I’m sure there’s some truth to that, but less than two years after this the beating of Rodney King woke those who were sleeping to horrendous racial issues in the real life Los Angeles Police Department – problems that have continued to repeat themselves in other departments around the country for decades. So let’s not get too cocky here, America.”

    I would almost say that’s what they’re going for with Lethal Weapon 3 having a dirty cop for the villain, but the movie is so limp that it doesn’t come off as anything but a Saturday morning cartoon villain who’s evil for the sake of being evil.

  6. Is LETHAL WEAPON now your most reviewed series, with 50% of them being reviewed twice?

  7. Adding to Mr. M’s comment about the score, Leo has a muted trumpet theme in part 3 and 4.

  8. I still quote “Diplomatic immunity!” on a regular basis. Also “They’ve been de-kaffir-nated”, but that one doesn’t tend to crop up naturally in conversation.

  9. caruso_stalker217

    July 17th, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Riggs is dead in the last shot of this film.

    Certainly in my top three movie sequels.

  10. Caruso – yeah it was really obvious watching it this time that the final shot was for the original ending where he dies. I’ll go ahead and say if the internet was around when this movie came out and there was no Lethal Weapon 3, there would totally be Youtube videos obsessing over whether or not Riggs died at the end like it’s the end of Inception or something. “The Ending of Lethal Weapon 2- Explained!” Actually, I’m kinda surprised there aren’t some fan theories saying he did die and Parts 3 and 4 are Riggs’ dying fever dream/wish fulfillment. (Actually that might explain Leo’s ridiculous dream-like appearances in the sequels now I think about it)

    My sister saw the movie way before i did and when she told me Riggs died at the end and I was like wait what??? I don’t think she saw a test screening or rough cut or something, but I can totally see how you could interpret the ending that way – there’s no reveal he’s wearing a vest or has a Bible/flask in his pocket that blocked the bullet like you’d normally see in a movie like this; there’s really no explanation for why he’s at death’s door (Knocking on Heaven’s Door!) and then suddenly he’s not. There’s just that one ADR’d line where Roger goes “Where’d that bullet hit you anyway?” which Riggs never answers until the scar-comparing scene in Part 3.

    I’m glad they didn’t kill Riggs because I love where the sequels take the characters and I don’t really get the thematic point of him dying at the hands of the same assholes who killed his wife. But him dying in Roger’s arms while they’re cracking jokes and still teasing and giving each other shit would still be a great ending in its own way.

  11. caruso_stalker217

    July 18th, 2019 at 10:14 am

    Also, I’ve never seen this confirmed anywhere, but I’m pretty sure he actually dies onscreen when Murtaugh is calling his name.

    At about the 1:20 mark here, that sure looks like a guy dying to me.

  12. caruso_stalker217

    July 18th, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Looks like my link fu failed pretty hard there.

  13. Clapton, Kamen and Sanborn’s first collaboration was not this, or even the first LETHAL WEAPON. They all appeared together on Roger Waters’ THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCHHIKING in 1984. Clapton and Kamen even toured with Roger on it for the first European and North American stints, before bailing out.


  14. In my mind South Africans and white supremacists did become a stock villain type before Russian mobsters and sex traffickers took over.

    Think I saw this at the cinema before I’d seen the first one but still enjoyed it.

  15. This has to be one of my most watched movies ever. Like seriously I wore out 2 VHS dubbed copies of it I watched it so damn much. Till this day if it’s on TV I let it rock in the background even if I’m not watching. How appropriate that it is statistically indeed the most LETHAL. Cause it always certainly felt that way.

  16. One of my fellow Hoosiers Dean Norris’ first appearances on screen.

  17. Hi there Mr. Vern.

    I think Murtaugh’s anti-apartheid stand was very obvious from day one and by that I mean from the very first film. Maybe it’s something Black wrote into the script as a note (haven’t read it yet but plan to someday) or maybe it was Donner’s input but if you look closely to the fridge in Murtaugh’s house you could see an anti-apartheid sticker. Obviously the sticker went unnoticed the first time you watched part 1, unless you’re obsessed with art direction, like myself, but once you get through the series many times you start to catch these amazing characterization details.


    P.S. How come you haven’t written about the Lethal Weapon tv reboot?

  18. Vern doesn’t write much about TV at all.

  19. Rossatron looks at the Lethal Weapon series.

    The Lethal Weapons - (1987 - 1998 Film Franchise Review)

    Lethal Weapon was once one of the most enduring action franchises in the world, but how does the series hold up today? Is it simply a case of diminishing ret...

  20. So after all these years of us discussing the possibility LETHAL 5 finally seems to be a go. I guess the success of BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (a.k.a. the real BAD BOYS II but with a title that should’ve been reserved for a fourth part) really made WB say “fuck it what the hell?!?”

    Depending on where they take the story I’m open to it but please do not make baby Riggs and grandchild of Murtaugh into cops or anything. Keep it focused on those 2 old coots on one last ride por favor. Maybe it’s not too late for Walter Hill to convince Nick Nolte and Eddie that the world needs YET ANOTHER 48 HRS?

  21. Shane Black had an idea for a fifth one he shared on a podcast around the time THE NICE GUYS was coming out. Basically Riggs and Murtaugh in a New York City snowstorm taking on bad guys. I think a story just focusing on the two of them, with everyone else to the side wouldn’t be a bad way to go out as what I’ve read so far is saying it will be the final one.

  22. The vibe I’m getting is that this is less about saying goodbye to Riggs and Murtaugh and more about the old gang getting together one last time and saying goodbye to Richard Donner, who really brought the whole extended sitcom family to the proceedings, both onscreen and behind the scenes. Donner long ago replaced Black as the primary auteur of the series so I really can’t see them doing something stripped down and gritty like Black suggested. Riggs and Murtaugh are Black’s characters so that’s who he cares about, but Donner is about the ensemble. He’s going to want every single surviving cast member coming through for hugs and catchphrases. I wouldn’t be surprised if the contractor from part 2 rolls through and says “She made me want to buy rubbers.” And I’m okay with it. Let Donner do his victory lap. The old warhorse has more than earned it. Then maybe Black can come back and do his UNFORGIVEN version in a few years when everybody is REALLY too old for this shit. I think both interpretations of the material have value.

    Just no more TV shows, guys. That’s all I ask.

  23. The tv show ended up being terrible.

  24. The last season was wack because of lack of Riggs but I’d say terrible for the entire series is an exaggeration. I’d take the first 2 seasons over CSI, NCIS and any other prime time procedural easily.

  25. I liked it right up until the bullshit thing where the dad is suddenly alive and I stopped caring at that point.

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