Reviewed by: Christopher Heyn
When teaser posters for “Lethal Weapon 4” first appeared, one couldn’t help but believe that Warner Brothers was getting really, really desperate. After a year and a half of box-office failures, Warners rushed this Weapon into production just last January, an amazingly short production schedule for a big-budget action film. If that wasn’t challenging enough, Mel Gibson promised on national television he’d never do this movie… until Warners waved a $40 million dollar check in front of him ($25 million up front, $15 on the back end if the film does well). And, after six years since “Lethal Weapon 3”, was the average moviegoer really clamoring to see another installment?
Well, believe it or not, Warners' seemingly foolish gamble seven months ago may prove to be a stroke of genius. “Lethal Weapon 4” is quite simply the most entertaining sequel in the series.
This time, the plot revolves around bad guys from China: a corrupt general, a crime syndicate that forges money, and the smuggling of illegal aliens into L.A.’s Chinatown. How it all adds up is really irrelevant, since the plot only serves as setup for what the audience really pays to see: witty banter between Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover), their humorous and touching relationships with their family, friends and co-workers, and their wild and crazy adventures along the way.
“Lethal Weapon 4” is filled with several genuinely funny scenes, some surprisingly inventive action sequences, the best villain in the series in newcomer Jet Li, and some impressive karate choreography. It’s obvious the cast enjoys working with each other, and their playful attitude is infectious.
“Lethal Weapon 4” also features something rather unexpected: a pro-marriage, pro-family message. Granted, some viewers may not be convinced by the effectiveness of its presentation, but it nevertheless remains the film’s main theme. After three movies, Murtaugh’s stable family life has finally rubbed off on Riggs, causing him to actually consider getting married to Lorna (Rene Russo). Yes, Riggs and Lorna have been living together for a year, but to focus on that one aspect misses the point of the story. Riggs is afraid of marriage because of the violent death of his first wife, and he fears losing yet another important woman in his life the same way. Lorna understands his fear, but at the end of the film, she still forces Riggs' hand because she understands the importance of raising a child in a stable home. The marriage and family theme pops up again and again: Murtaugh’s caring relationship toward the immigrant Chinese family, Joe Pesci exclaiming at the end of the film “we’re a family!” and even the end credits, where the endless photos of production staff serve as an exclamation point to this message, if the film itself wasn’t clear enough.
Despite all this, however, “Lethal Weapon 4” contains massive amounts of profanity, some unwelcome racial stereotyping, and several intense scenes of violence. In fact, the final showdown between heroes and villain is almost unforgivable, being both unrelentingly vicious and totally unbelievable at the same time. Too bad, too, since the hysterical rant between Chris Rock and Joe Pesci about the unreliability of cell phones is almost worth the price of admission (if not for the incessant profanity).
Is “Lethal Weapon 4” worth seeing for a Christian audience? No, not particularly. Sure, some of the more positive themes in this film are nice to see in a mainstream Hollywood picture, but will the average moviegoer remember them when they leave the theatre? Probably not.
Year of Release—1998