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IN SHORT: Better than 2 and 3 combined.
A quick Cranky history to recap the last 12 years -- Lethal Weapon (1987) was a terrific flick. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) wasn't as great, but it did better box office which justified making Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) which was worse than the first two but, again, did better box office than the preceding two . . .
Despite the confusion you're no doubt feeling since I raved in the summary and trashed in the first 'graph, as always, Cranky make no comparisons to Source Material. He did enter the movie theater dreading the inevitable and absolutely necessary expository dialog needed to bring those of us unfamiliar with the LW epic up to date. The absolute pain Cranky felt sitting through the horribly scripted opening scenes (you've got a total of four writers on this thing so blame whoever you'd like) was almost equal to the boredom I felt during Armageddon.
Here's the difference between this month's popcorn movies: Armageddon had no ups and downs. It's characters were so poorly developed that you didn't give a damn about 'em unless the manipulative script pushed your buttons. Once Lethal Weapon 4 gets all the necessary crap out of the way and hits its stride, well, this sucker rocks.
The opening scenes of LW4 feel like a series of acting school improvisations, as Detective Sergeants Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) take down a bullet proof, flame throwing terrorist (you've seen this bit better edited in the trailer, which clocks in at a merciful one-fifth the running time, give or take). "Nine months later" Riggs and Murtaugh feed comic relief Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) to the sharks and stumble into another big action sequence, involving the smuggling of Chinese immigrants. The first action scene is a cover for exposition. The second action scene sets up the real story that follows, introducing the Chinese equivalent of organized crime, called Triads, to us Occidental folk. Smuggling leads to dirty dealings at high political levels and then to the ultimate criminal act of this flick -- which I won't reveal. Those familiar with the first three flicks will probably laugh heartily at the multitude of asides, one-liners and other jokes in the First Act dialog, which is stilted and painful. (yada yada yada).
About 20 minutes in, Danny Glover drops a joke that, like the Chinese theme of the movie, I can't remember an hour later, but it's incredibly funny and broke Cranky out of his sequel funk. Then, Triad leader Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) shows up and things, story-wise, get nasty and violent. If you're like Cranky, you have no idea who Jet Li is, but you're gonna remember him. If you do know who he is, you're gonna be headed back to the box office to watch his stint as LW4's bad guy again and again. Gibson's character refers to Li's character as "Bruce," as in Lee, as in you are not going to believe what this martial artist can do. LW4 goes heavy on the ultraviolence and thankfully light on the villain's explanatory dialog. Li doesn't speak a word of English, which makes his character all the more evil.
Briefly: Riggs' live-in love Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) is very preggers. Riggs does not want to remarry -- rent the first one -- and Lorna isn't pushing . . . you know what's coming, but you'll be very pleasantly surprised, and probably laugh hysterically, when it happens. Murtaugh's daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe) is also expecting, but she's not married and isn't telling who done it. Chris Rock joins the cast as the way too personally attentive to Murtaugh Detective Lee Butters. The aforementioned Twenty Minutes of Hell reveals all the secrets in the flick and from there on in LW4 is wall to wall bash crash wham joke bam thud pow explosion and great interaction between all actors involved. Wait for a Chris Rock and Joe Pesci head to head on the evils of cellular phones. Marvel at Jet Li's moves.
LW4 may be way too violent for simple date flicks -- Cranky's an old fogey and even he flinched when Jet Li let loose. As action flix go, it's a better ride than anything I've seen with lizards, comets or other space debris in it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Lethal Weapon 4, he would have paid . . .
Lethal Weapon 4 beats its previous sequels to bits. I was going to knock off four bits for the painfully necessary exposition that takes up the first 20 minutes, but that would be beating a dead horse. The Mel Gibson-Jet Li face off more than makes up for it.
For more on triads, head for the local used book store and look for a copy of "Warlords of Crime" by Gerald Posner. Or buy any of his books, and look for my name in the acknowledgments. Odds are you'll find it. Tee hee
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