Cinerama: Lethal Weapon

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Lethal Weapon

By Mike Derderian

We all have embarrassing moments in life but in my case it was the other way round. Life to me was a series of embarrassing moments. How would you feel if your father walked into your room and saw a plastic automatic gun placed in your mouth? Seriously!

No I wasn’t thinking of killing myself, I was merely enacting a scene from Richard Donner’s 1987 Lethal Weapon in which Sergeant Martin Riggs (a very young Mel Gibson) was trying to commit suicide after looking at a photo of his dead wife of 11 years, who was killed in a car accident.

“See you later, babe,” Riggs says to his wife’s photograph after deciding not to kill himself. “I hate the taste of plastic… I am beginning to drool all over the barrel,” I said thinking to myself, while un-cocking the plastic gun.

Well, it was actually one of the worst moments in my life but for a boy, who had a big imagination and no friends at the time, it was just one of those unforgettable Kodak flashbacks that you so much cherish and keep in a family photo album.

As a child I was thrown in front of the television all the time because it was the only thing that managed to keep me under control. It was also the best friend I ever had in addition to my mother, who planted the first seed of imagination in my head with her bedtime stories.

Performing a scene from a movie was a normal thing for a child like me, who was nursed on movies instead of milk. My Shakespearian endeavors were always performed behind closed doors and to an audience of teddy bears and action figures.

I was so into Mel Gibson’s death defying scene in Lethal Weapon that I failed to notice that my father was watching me mimic Riggs’s facial expressions as he shoved a Beretta down his throat.

He just stood across the room gazing at me and did not utter a single word. I never knew what happened until one evening and during a family dinner the cat was let out of the bag and boy it was a big mischievous darn cat. My family never could let go of the story and every time a toy gun was around at my home somebody just had to rub it in.

Unforgettable moments in life are like movie scenes that stuck in the back of our minds as we grow older in an existence destined to forgetfulness. Life is but a dream that ends when death occurs and in movies death never occurs: Screen legends outlived our grandparents and they will outlive us as well.

“To die, to sleep; to sleep: Perchance to dream: Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come,” William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, contemplating death, once said. This might come as a surprise to you, my dear reader, but Gibson appeared in a 1990 cinematic production of Hamlet directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Upon seeing “the suicide contemplation scene” in Lethal Weapon Zeffirelli offered Gibson the role of Hamlet. The scene is so intense that you’d think that Riggs is going to pull the trigger. If he did we wouldn’t have had Lethal Weapon II, III and IV.

Gibson brilliantly managed to convey Riggs’ inner anguish and pain; the result of losing his wife. The man cries, tries to kill himself, rants, acts crazy and shoots bad guys with a vengeance; you just can’t hate the guy, in fact your going love him!

Riggs is an everyman and anyone can sympathize with him. He is not a superhero or super-cop. He is a human—nothing more than a human. Ok, ok everyone by now knows that he can undergo painful torture—the scene where he is tied to a hook dripping with water and given electric shocks by a short Chinese guy called Endo. So what? It was only a car battery.

Riggs is like any other man, who breaks under pressure; however, he was strong enough to pick up the pieces and this is what happens in Lethal Weapon. This wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been assigned as partner to veteran Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover).

“Guess what?” Murtaugh angrily yells out to Riggs as they are heading to Murtaugh’s unmarked police car. “What?” Riggs asks. “I don’t want to work with you!” replies Murtaugh. “Hey, don’t!” a cynical Riggs exclaims.

Written by Shane Black and directed by Donner—a heavyweight known for his watch-able action movies—Lethal Weapon was so good that it span three better sequels within a period of 11 years. Good action, great acting and a good storyline are a sure thing in any Donner.

Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Damon Hines, Damon Hines, Ebonie Smith, Mary Ellen Trainor and Steve Kahan as Steve Kahan Captain Ed Murphy are the only actors to appear in all four parts next to Gibson and Glover. I didn’t count Sam the dog because he appeared in I, II and IV.

The Lethal Weapon family grew larger when Joe Pesci and Rene Russo joined in the rest of the cast. Pesci’s character Leo Getz, a sleazy but endearing pretends-to-knows-it-all guy, appears in part II and Russo’s Lorna Cole, a tough internal affairs cop and soon-to-become Riggs’ love interest in part III. We almost forgot motor mouth Detective Lee Butters (Chris Rock), who is one of the unforgettable characters in Lethal Weapon IV, which is the latest installation in the franchise.

The versatile blend of actors in Lethal Weapon is one of the best character combinations to have been put together in cinema history. I should have saved this movie until Christmas day because its events take place during the jolly season but hey who’s keeping track of anything going on in the world nowadays.

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