There was a time when this franchise was thought to be finished. There was a neat little trilogy which ended quite sufficiently story wise. The main two actors were getting on in years, there seemed to be no real reason to go back to this well. Funny, we find ourselves in that very spot yet again, apparently.
So back in 1997 Warner Bros had a bad summer with its crop of releases. The studio needed a big hit and fast, and that safe bet was the Lethal Weapon franchise. Alas things did not go overly smoothly with an unfinished script and short production time. The actual script was never completely locked down and changed throughout the production. Regular character Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) was brought back after initially being kicked out, whilst new character Butters (Chris Rock) was also introduced late in the game (being gay originally). Its worth pointing out that the movies ending had also not been written when the cameras started rolling for the first time.
So this time the plot moves away from drug smuggling and into people smuggling. The lads stumble across a Chinese immigrant smuggling ring being run by some Triads. These bad guys are forcing one specific Chinese man (who clearly has some special skills) to engrave plates to create counterfeit Chinese money. In exchange for this the Triads are bringing his family to the US. Murtaugh and Riggs find themselves helping this specific family whilst trying to crack the illegal smuggling ring. So essentially its the same thing all over again, just swap out drug shipments for people shipments.
I think the main issue with this movie is the fact it lacks action, for an action movie. There is a huge focus on the characters and their family lives here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does get a tad dull. You don't really feel like you're watching an action movie, more like a TV comedy series. Overall I felt the movie struggled to keep things interesting. That being said, this movie did take a surprising turn back towards the original in terms of being somewhat darker, both content wise and visually.
Both Riggs and Murtaugh are getting way too old for this shit. Riggs spends most of his time complaining about how old he's getting, and we are indeed shown how old he's getting in a few scenes. Where as Murtaugh is quite frankly past it, you're left wondering how this guy is still working on the force...in the field! The duo no longer come across like a mismatched pair of cops, but more like a mismatched pair of old fogies having a fun day out from their retirement home.
Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) is also back but has now been reduced to a background character that is pregnant. She is no longer kicking ass with a smug grin on her face, oh no. Now she's lurching around slowly, heavily pregnant and stuffing her face with all manner of foods (because pregnancy equals cheap food gags). Whilst on one hand this angle is further expanding the story for both her and Riggs, it does kinda spoil her character. I really don't think we needed to see that, surely they could have set the movie after she had the baby?
As said Leo is back too and just as daft as ever. This time Leo has become a private eye so now he has a badge and can kinda get in on the action legally. Again its the same scenario with Leo Getz, he's a funny character but way way too stupid for this type of flick. Well that's what I would be saying but we all know this franchise turned into a slapstick comedy affair so technically he fits in fine. Its just a shame that they had to fall back on old jokes (a common problem with sequels). Did we really need another 'they f*ck you at the drive-thru' gag? Sure its amusing but you mean to tell me they couldn't think of anything new?
New character Detective Lee Butters (stupid name) is secretly getting married to Murtaugh's daughter (who is also pregnant) which is one comedy aspect to his characters story. The other being the new comedy double act that arises between him and Leo. This starts up by Leo inadvertently mistaking Butters for a perp and Butters taking offense, making it racial etc...From there on Leo thinks Butters is too touchy and Butters is always ragging on him. This was a neat little set up but its tainted because you know perfectly well its only in the movie to serve Chris Rock's stand-up routines. At the time Rock was the new comedic sensation in the USA and clearly that got him this gig. Bottom line, Rock was badly miscast and stuck out like a sore thumb. Every time he spoke it just felt like part of his stand-up act, like the movie pauses just so he can have his little spot.
Again the villains in a Lethal Weapon movie aren't all that intimidating or threatening. The Chinese bad guys here were generally faceless (as usual) except for Uncle Benny (Kim Chan) who was too old frankly. The actor playing him really didn't come across as if he could actually act, whilst his character just doesn't do anything (probably because he looked around 90 years old. Think old man Lo Pan in 'Big Trouble in Little China'). Then you had Jet Li in his first American movie, and first role as a bad guy. Now where as Li is perfectly fine as the mysterious silent bad guy, he's clearly too over-powered for the movies protagonists. Yet at the same time he's still not that overly intimidating, he's more like a deadly monk. He didn't even dress like a baddie.
And herein lies another issue with this movie, the main bad guy is just too powerful. During the movie we are shown how strong, agile and skilled Li's character is. Yet in the finale battle between Riggs, Murtaugh and Wah Sing Ku, the good guys win. Its a typical problem with many similar movies. The highly skilled martial artist bad guy can defeat just about anyone effortlessly, but can't beat the aging good guys. This literally makes a mockery of the entire movie really. Not to mention the quite ridiculous moment when Murtaugh saves Riggs from drowning in the final showdown. Talk about movie magic and suspension of disbelief.
In the end this late entry in the franchise felt completely unnecessary. Merely milking the last few drops out of the franchise whilst they still could; whilst the actors were still just about able to pull it off. Did it work? Was it unnecessary? Well yes and no. Overall the movie definitely looks better, moodier, and felt a bit darker/edgier in tone. It certainly feels more like the franchise of old rather than the cartoonish third sequel. But that said it simply cannot escape the feeling of being somewhat unmerited because they kinda tied everything up OK in said third movie. All the soppy family guff we get at the very end was basically not needed, much like this movie truth be told. But surprisingly its actually better than the third movie.