Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) Warner Bros./Action-Comedy RT: 127 minutes Rated R (language, strong violence, adult situations) Director: Richard Donner Screenplay: Channing Gibson Music: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn Release date: July 10, 1998 Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Kim Chan, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Eddy Ko, Calvin Jung, Mary Ellen Trainor, Steven Lam, Richard Riehle, Richard Libertini, Bill Henderson.
The fourth and final entry in the Lethal Weapon series is a curious hybrid indeed, it's not just an action-comedy like it's immediate predecessor, it also has elements of the Hong Kong school of filmmaking, the plot is all over the place and the fight sequences are ballet-like with Jet Li (Unleashed) in his first American movie. Lethal Weapon 4 has Riggs (Gibson), Murtuagh (Glover) and company taking on Chinese gangsters in a plot involving the Triad (the Chinese version of the Italian Mafia), an illegal immigrant smuggling ring, counterfeit Chinese money and four important prisoners that have been brought over to the US after being removed from a maximum-security prison in China.
It doesn't really matter how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, that's something that I will leave to the viewer, but it does give Asian superstar Jet Li to show off his superior martial arts skills to US audiences for the first time. He plays Wah Sing Ku, a high-ranking Triad negotiator who's the mastermind behind the aforementioned scheme. Riggs and Murtaugh first become aware that something is amiss in Chinatown after they encounter a large vessel full of Chinese immigrants while doing some night fishing in Roger's boat. After the captain of the vessel gets away and Roger's boat is sunk, INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) shows up and takes away all the illegal immigrants, except for the family that Murtaugh finds hiding in a dinghy. He takes them to his house and provides shelter for them, he claims that it's like freeing slaves because these people would surely be forced into labor to pay back the cost of bringing them to America. Meanwhile, Lorna (Russo) is pregnant with Riggs' baby and he's not sure whether he wants to get married again or not, he still feels a sense of loyalty to his late wife. Roger's oldest daughter Rianne (Wolfe) is also pregnant and secretly married to Lee Butters (Rock, New Jack City), a young detective who works with Murtaugh and Riggs in their unit. Roger has made it perfectly clear that he's against his daughter ever getting involved with another cop, so they have to keep this fact from him until they're sure that he can accept it without killing the young man. However, Butters always makes a fuss over Rogers, which leads the elder detective to conclude that the young detective is gay and attracted to him.
Captain Murphy (Kahan) calls Riggs and Murtaugh into his office and informs them that, thanks to their many escapades and antics through the years, the city lost its insurance policy and can no longer afford the risk of putting these guys on the street every day. Instead of firing them or asking them to retire, he promotes them both to the rank of captain as a way of keeping their street time at a minimum. Ha! Does he really think that this will make a difference? If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'd like to sell to him. In typical Lethal Weapon fashion, the guys tear up the streets and destroy sections of the city as they chase down numerous bad guys. One scene has them driving their car through one of the upper levels of an office building after jumping off the freeway, then crashing through the other side back onto another section of the freeway. That has to be one of the coolest stunts I've ever seen, it's like something out of James Cameron's True Lies (1994). The fight scenes are choreographed by Cory Yuen (Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter 1 & 2) and they are truly awesome, it's a small change of pace from this movie's predecessors. Lethal Weapon 4 is a good movie and it has a more complex plot than its immediate predecessor; unfortunately, it's also a bit convoluted and hard to follow at times. Also, the movie runs a bit longer than it should, I think that the filmmakers could have tightened it up a bit. Aside from these minor flaws, the movie is very entertaining and a worthwhile installment in the franchise. All of the actors deliver good performances, it's interesting to see how much Riggs has evolved over the years (and four movies), he's gone from certified lunatic to mildly crazy action hero, he's starting to realize that he's getting older and many of his colleagues are younger, faster and stronger. He, Murtaugh and Murphy are dinosaurs, they represent old school law enforcement while the newer detectives all have psychology degrees and represent a different kind of law enforcement, one that doesn't involve maverick cops and mass property destruction. This is very likely the last hurrah for Riggs and Murtaugh, so why not go out with a big bang instead of a whimper!
Glover again shows his tender side as he bonds with Mr. Hong (Ko), the eldest member of the family that's staying in his house. Roger is about to become a grandfather for the first time and he has a nice conversation with Hong about their children and their hopes for a brighter future. Rock makes a nice addition to the family, he's loud and opinionated, he also cares about the victims he encounters on the job. While standing over the body of one of the immigrants from the vessel, he's visibly pissed off about the unfairness of it all. He knows what it's like to live in fear of the criminals that run the streets, he describes his childhood to Riggs and Murtaugh, explaining how he uses his experiences to help him enforce the law. Rock has a very funny scene with Pesci as they discuss all the ways that cell phone companies take advantage of their customers. This is a recurring theme throughout the Lethal Weapon flicks, Leo explaining how various institutions and businesses "f**k" their customers. This time around, Leo (Pesci) is a private investigator (he finally gets the gun that he's been begging for in the other movies!) and the guys hire him to follow Uncle Benny (Chan, The Corruptor), a Chinatown crime boss who's involved in the scheme. Here's an interesting piece of trivia, Kim Chan also played a villainous character called Uncle Benny in the 1999 actioner The Corruptor opposite Chow Yun-Fat and Mark Wahlberg. I think that Lethal Weapon 4 is good way to wind things up, the character of Martin Riggs has come full circle and Roger Murtaugh looks like he's finally ready to retire for good. If Donner wishes to continue the franchise, he has an excellent opportunity to pass the torch to Chris Rock and partner him with another wild lunatic, preferably a white guy with serious issues, much like Gibson in the 1987 original. We get the sense that the characters in the Lethal Weapon movies are more than friends, they're an extended family and it's a very nice way to end things. This is what makes this particular franchise stand out from the pack and stand as an example of the correct way to make a successful movie franchise. Thank you Mr. Donner, it's been real!