The Film: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
The Principals: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Stuart Wilson, Steve Kahan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe. Directed by Richard Donner.
The Premise: Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) take on an ousted L.A. cop (Wilson) who’s circulating a deadly form of armor-piercing bullets to criminals.
Is It Good? When I was 10 and had just discovered the franchise, it was, and until recently, it had been the entry I hadn’t seen in the longest time. Perhaps it has to do with the flat-out absence of Shane Black, or maybe the intriguing, topical use of a corrupt cop as the villain—especially coming right off the riots in Los Angeles and the Rodney King ordeal—backfired in its execution. Lethal Weapon 3 is a slick, moronic shell of the classic original and equally fantastic first sequel.
Once the cool, moody opening credits set to Sting and Eric Clapton’s “It’s Probably Me” wrap up, we’re thrust into the middle of Riggs and Murtaugh responding to a bomb rigged to blow up a building. The banter between Gibson and Glover has anchored these films from the get-go, but here, it gets in the way of moving forth an organic story. As if Jeffrey Boam (who also contributed to the second one) and Robert Mark Kamen—or perhaps a greater power in the making of the film—made an assumption that there was a greater demand for slapstick humor. Furthermore, the humiliation Murtaugh gets thrust into this time around is a masochistic comment on what the audience wanted. He almost got killed in Riggs’ hands in the first one, dealt with pro-apartheid villains and suffered the horror of seeing his daughter star in a condom commercial in the second one—why don’t we have him try to retire again and agitate him more? And hey, why don’t we show that Riggs is so crazy that he can eat an onion like an apple?
We’re not through yet with the notes for a “successful” blockbuster, either. Joe Pesci weasels his way back as Leo Getz, inexplicably sporting bleached-blonde hair and adding little to the weight of the story. Rene Russo does well in the introduction to Lorna Cole, who’s played up as Riggs’ female counterpart. Sure, it’s a romantic interest, and the idea is valid, but in the end, the film fails to utilize her as more than just that—something hinted to go farther from her earlier scenes.
As Jack Travis, the film’s lead villain, Stuart Wilson proves to be the franchise’s most boring, unengaged heavy. Following Shadow Company and the foreboding presence of Gary Busey’s Mr. Joshua in the first film and the tyrannical, smart-witted South African diplomats in the second, Travis is a giant step off. Say the same about Col. Stuart compared to Hans Gruber with the Die Hard movies, but at least William Sadler plays a charismatic bastard—Travis is nothing but a patsy with no stake in the odds of the excitement. Given how great Wilson is doing the villain routine in No Escape, it’s quite a disappointment.
In essence, Lethal Weapon 3 reeks of a product written by committee, dictated by the omnipresence of pop culture and mass consumption. It’s Lethal Weapon for the Last Action Hero universe, bordering dangerously on National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1.
Is It Worth a Look? As I said, it had been years since I’d last seen this one, and if tradition dictates, it will be years until I see it again. I know people who are iffy on the series following the original, and if that’s the case, stay that way with regards to that one. Lethal Weapon 2 gets all my love in the world though.
Random Anecdotes: I have a very, very strong personal affinity for the Data East pinball machine based on this one. From the cool layout of the table to the fact that you can either listen to digitized versions of “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top or “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” it’s needless to say I love this far more than the film. A photo of my last encounter with it at the sadly-gone Funk & Standard in Red Bank, NJ:
Richard Donner—known for his liberal politics and advocacy of animal and abortion rights—has always sneaked material hinting towards his beliefs in his films. An anti-apartheid sticker graced the Murtaughs’ refrigerator in the first Lethal Weapon. Murtaugh himself screams “Free South Africa!” in the second one. Here, Murtaugh’s daughter graces a pro-choice T-shirt and an 18-wheeler appears with an anti-fur ad on the side.
Carrie Fisher was brought in as a script doctor to enhance the character of Lorna Cole. Furthermore, the original script didn’t have Leo Getz—he was said to have relocated to New York City in early versions.
Coming along during the opulent, excessive period of Hollywood in the early 90’s, the huge opening weekend led Warner Bros. to reward Mel Gibson, Richard Donner and Joel Silver with brand-new Range Rovers as gifts at a celebratory luncheon. Donner, unaware of the surprise, also wanted Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo and co-writer Jeffrey Boam to come along—leading Warner Bros. brass to race around Los Angeles to buy an additional four more cars for the occasion.
Lethal Weapon 3 marks the only entry of the franchise where Murtaugh’s family is not menaced or threatened by the villains.
Stuart Wilson is also the main villain in another, worse third installement: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!
Cinematic Soulmates: Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 4