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From Under A Rock: Lethal Weapon

January 15, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Lethal Weapon
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From Under A Rock: Lethal Weapon  


One thing this column has given us the opportunity to do is see movies that we think the other needs to check out. But more than that, we now have our eyes peeled for movies we individually want to watch in hopes that they’re good so that we can introduce them to one another. This week’s pick is one that I (Michael) watched for the first time about a year ago and absolutely loved, and even though it’s not a film I grew up with, it immediately became something worth talking about here in my opinion.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show (determined at the discretion of my writing partner, Aaron Hubbard and I in alternation). This column is a companion piece to my podcast of the same premise, which you can check out here.

Last week Aaron flew Michael to Krypton and back as they watched Superman: The Movie. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock with another movie directed by Richard Donner.

Lethal Weapon
Released: March 6th, 1987
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Shane Black
Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs
Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh
Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua
Mitchell Ryan as General Peter McAllister
Ebonie Smith as Carrie Murtaugh

Michael Ornelas: This movie became an instant classic to me when I first watched it last year, and I’m honestly bummed I never chose to watch it as a kid. My older brother was, to a degree, a fan of the franchise and we had the VHS in our household. Action movies never really interested me growing up, however, as I tended to gravitate toward comedy. Well I’ve expanded my horizons as an adult and now I’m making up for lost time. And now Aaron gets to do the same.

Aaron Hubbard: I don’t think I would have managed to get away with seeing this when I was younger. By the time I could have, Mel Gibson’s personal life had taken a rather disturbing turn for the worse, and I just didn’t have any real desire to watch him in movies again. And with that said; this movie honestly blew away my expectations. It was one of the most enjoyable rides I have had doing this column with you.

Too Old
I’m Too Old for This Shit
Michael: The strongest thing about this film is how quickly and deeply it gets to explaining who the main characters are. By about the 10-15 minute mark, we’ve seen how Riggs is at home with his dog, that he’s a loose cannon as a cop, and the fact that he’s depressed and suicidal. Murtaugh is a through-and-through family man and a by-the-book officer of the law. We know this so quickly that when we first see them onscreen together, we know to expect that they’ll be opposite, combustible elements, and the scene itself has Murtaugh tackle Riggs for what he assumes is the great good of the precinct, while still losing the battle. Every little thing about this script is a direct reflection of who these two are as people, and it made the rest of the movie an absolute blast to watch.

Aaron: I’ve slowly become a fan of action movies the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed there are some common threads between the really good ones and the ones that are “okay at best”. The main difference is how the main characters are handled and if they are interesting and fun to watch; if we care about a character as a person, we will be more invested in the action because we want them to succeed and don’t want them to die. That might seem like movie-making 101, but some action movies forget that and are forgettable as a result. Lethal Weapon is not one of those movies; honestly it’s more of a character piece than an action movie, and I loved it. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover bring a lot to Riggs and Murtaugh, but the script brings even more. I love these characters. The way they play off each other and against each other is perfect, and I want to see more of them. It’s no surprise to me that this had three sequels because I could honestly watch these two have a conversation in a diner and probably be riveted.

Michael: It’s also a classic “opposites attract” scenario where their strengths serve to cover for the other’s weaknesses. Together, they’re the complete package, but individually they’re both too flawed to get the job done. They rely on teamwork and we as an audience are given no choice but to love it when they work together successfully. It really is so simple, yet so effective.

Genuine Character Conflict
Aaron: One of the things that really stood out to me about this movie was how the characters react to being put together. Having two lead characters butt heads is nothing new, but I think it’s increasingly rare to find a script that manages this trope effectively. Often times characters will be at odds for no discernable reason other than to create drama and it’s hard to be invested in any of it. Murtaugh and Riggs are well-fleshed out right from the start; we know where they come from and what their perspectives on life are. But even when they clash, they listen to each other and get to know each other like actual human adults. There’s nowhere these two couldn’t clash at first, and seeing it portrayed so organically was a real treat. I would actually use this film as an example to teach a young writer how to develop characters, which is not an opinion I expected to have about it.

Michael: On the antagonist side of the fence, we also have General McAllister and, more interestingly to me, Mr. Joshua, as portrayed by Gary Busey. We know his conflict with our leads in a progressive way that serves to make him more and more dangerous. His intro scene is badass (with the lighter to the arm) so we know he’s tough and more than a little crazy. But when we come to find out that he’s cut from the same cloth as Riggs, he’s given a major credibility boost that makes him a great final boss at the end of the movie.

Casual Diversity
Michael: It’s no secret that diversity in Hollywood isn’t the norm, and often when a part is written for a minority or a woman, it’s more to serve as a stereotype or a means for the white man to progress his arc. Before I go any further, I should point out that I’m white, so I’m not using this as an opportunity to berate “the man,” I’m just stating facts based on observations that I’m sure we’ve all made by now. Well having said that, I love the fact that Danny Glover is an officer with status and respect at his precinct, and at no point in the film is he portrayed as lesser. But Murtaugh feels like a character that was written to be black, and not in a stereotypical way. It’s refreshing to see that roles like this existed in 1987 when the film came out, and it wasn’t a big deal. We need more of that.

Aaron: Oftentimes the best way to make a statement is by not drawing attention to the issues. I think this film does touch on racism; the black kids talking about how cops only shoot black people is still painfully relevant almost thirty years later. And Riggs does throw around some choice words at other minorities, which is a bit uncomfortable to watch coming out of Gibson’s mouth, if I’m honest. But for how Murtaugh and his family are handled by the script, I do think it’s handled pretty much perfectly. Mel Gibson is not the star, he and Glover are the co-stars in every sense of the word. This movie would not be what it is if one character overshadowed the other.

Michael: That and Murtaugh’s daughter is super hot. She overshadows everything.

Aaron: I almost put this movie on again the day after my first viewing because I enjoyed it so much. It’s got a solid story that’s elevated by the strength of two extremely well put-together characters and managed to punch me in the gut emotionally more than once. I was extremely invested in them and the whole movie as a result. This was probably the most pleasant surprise I’ve had out of Michael’s picks; I came in barely excited and came out with a new favorite.


Michael: I think this script is excellent, and it starts strong and ends strong. The movie loses me a bit during the second half of the second act and the first half of the third because it gets bogged down in the details and the action slows down. But it’s just the calm before a storm of a great closing sequence to cap off a truly classic action flick. If you’re too young to have seen this or just managed to go through life without feasting your eyes upon this movie, I highly urge you to change that as soon as possible.


Michael: Well I’m ecstatic to see that this movie surpassed your expectations so much since your attitude about it ever since I told you I’d be picking it has pretty much just been “audible groan.” The next movie I have that I think you’ll feel the same about is Face/Off in September.

Aaron: I think you’ll be surprised at my reaction to that. Personally I don’t see any way that film can not be entertaining. Even if it’s a train wreck.

What’s your favorite buddy cop pairing?

Next week:
Aaron: I half considered looking for another Richard Donner movie to continue the streak, but instead I’m going to go with one of my favorite movies of all time. And one of the most important in my development as a movie watcher…

Double Indemnity

Michael: You’ve spoken highly of this movie for awhile now, and after its mention in Trumbo, I’m intrigued despite the fact that I don’t really gravitate toward movies this old.

Aaron: This is pretty much the definitive Film Noir. I can’t wait to see what you make of it.

What classic black and white movies are your favorites?

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Those who know me personally know that I (Michael) suffer from Crohn’s Disease because I’m a pretty open book about my life. Crohn’s (and Colitis) are conditions that affect many more people than you’d suspect. You may know a person or two with Crohn’s and you wouldn’t know it. Well CCFA is a great charity devoted to raising funds to finding a cure for this autoimmune disorder. I encourage you to check out their website here and maybe throwing a few bucks their way so that some day I can be cured, even if it means losing my right to a handicapped parking placard (which is seriously the best).

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Lethal Weapon is a thrill ride; Richard Donner's direction is top notch, Shane Black's script is incredibly effective, and the two leads elevate the movie into an all-time classic action movie. Riggs and Murtaugh are probably the definitive "buddy cop" pairing and their on-screen chemistry and individual character development were major highlights for us. It's no wonder this film launched a franchise; it's genuinely a classic in the genre.