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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: 30th Anniversary – Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “I’m Leo Getz, and whatever you want, Leo gets”. It’s One Of The Finest Examples Of The Genre, 30 Years Later It’s Still One Of The Greatest Sequels Put To Film. Rarely Does A Sequel Compare Or Outgun The Original Film As Swiftly & Breathlessly As “Lethal Weapon 2”. 

I don’t remember what age I was when I was finally allowed to see 1987’s “Lethal Weapon”. I do however distinctly remembering pulling out our homemade VHS, of films my dad recorded on HBO and seeing the spine of the VHS that read “Lethal Weapon”. I thought what a cool title but I also wondered what is “Lethal Weapon”? Sounded more like an old Kung Fu movie. 

Seeing “Lethal Weapon” for the first time changed my life, especially as a movie fan. It’s layered script and taught and tense bloody-knuckled action mechanics. “Lethal Weapon” is a skillfully prepared cinematic R-rated buddy cop action/drama. Loaded with blasting guns, peeks of nudity, and swaths of buddy banter comedy. “Lethal Weapon” not only became my favorite action film growing up, but it introduced me to the career of director Richard Donner who had already established himself as a filmmaker with Christopher Reeves original “Superman” and “The Goonies”. Also it was the start of my fandom for Mel Gibson who has become one of my favorite filmmakers and actors. Having only acted in the Australian apocalyptic actioner “Mad Max”, his lead role in “Lethal Weapon” made him a bonafide movie and action star. 

After the massive success of “Lethal Weapon”, it was very quickly decided by Warner Bros that a sequel was to be pumped out as fast as possible. Within two years after the original film; director Richard Donner, the cast and crew all returned for 1989’s “Lethal Weapon 2”. Donner’s sequel proved to be a rarity in Hollywood, not just then but 30 years later to still be considered, as one of the greatest sequels ever made. A sequel that contains most of the same qualities as the original, including the same off-center invention and wild energy as the original. Richard Donner’s “Lethal 2”, just might actually be better than the original. 

The heroes are once again a couple of cops who form an odd couple: Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), who still lives in a trailer by the beach and still has fun in making people think he’s crazy. Then there is Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who is still the stolid middle-class family man with retirement plans, because he is “Getting too old for this s**t!”.

In the original “Lethal Weapon”, Riggs and Murtagh’s relationship was the center of the film, and in “Lethal 2” they define it further. Becoming a balancing act between exasperation and trust. The screenwriters duty when it comes to a sequel, especially to such a successful first film is to bring a new angle. Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam (taking over from creator and screenwriter Shane Black) gives “Lethal Weapon 2”, lots of new angles including one in the creation of a band of diabolical villains. I always felt that what makes the James Bond films sink or swim is the quality and impact of their villains. That applies here to films like “Lethal Weapon”. 

The villains in “Lethal 2”, aren’t just violent bad guys but their particular characters, they are well-acted and malevolently conceived. They are absolutely ruthless in their execution, literally taking out half of Riggs and Murtagh’s friends from the police force. The South African baddies (believe it or not their not Russian for once!) led by Joss Ackland as a white-haired ambassador with steel eyes, and a terrific opponent to Mel Gibson is Derrick O’Connor as a lantern-jawed hit man.

The new angles don’t end their as Boam adds a new cast member into the mix of the movie’s most memorable character, a fast-talking pipsqueak named Leo Getz, played brilliantly by Joe Pesci. He’s an accountant who has figured out a foolproof way to launder vast quantities of illegal drug money: half a billion dollars to be exact. Not to mention he’s found a way to use the profits to obtain illegal income tax deductions.

Pesci delivers the comedy and one-liners spot on using his trademark lines “I’m Leo Getz, and whatever you want, Leo gets” or when he energetically says “OK, OK, OK”, with his wide chipmunk grin. The creation of the Leo Getz character is the movie’s masterstroke; and instead of recycling scenes in which Riggs and Murtagh fight with each other, “Lethal Weapon 2” provides a third character who can exasperate both of the men. Pesci, provides an ingratiating, slimy, self-deprecating and lovable character. Pesci gives us a counterpoint to the violence, as Gibson and Glover both have fun and the key to it all have chemistry as they play off of him.

Keeping “Lethal 2” afloat besides it’s endearing velocity is the accelerated development of the Martin Riggs character. Boam makes a ballsy choice to domesticate the suicidal madman so quickly from the first film, but the leap of pays off throughout the picture. It allows Gibson to nurture a tender persona, while creating a physical regression for the finale, where Riggs is to switch into a madman with a vengeance. 

Originally,  Riggs wasn’t to switch back into his “I’m not a cop tonight. This is personal” persona wasn’t to have happened, as originally the character of Rika played by the beautiful Patsy Kinst was intended to survive, with the last scene in the film being Riggs and Rika eating Thanksgiving dinner with the Murtaughs. Richard Donner decided to kill her character to increase Riggs’ motivation to destroy the South African baddies.

Producer Joel Silver had asked the writer of the first film Shane Black to write the script for the sequel, as Black agreed. Despite having some problems in his personal life, Shane Black managed to write his first draft of the script in six months, along with his friend, novelist Warren Murphy, the co-creator of “Remo Williams”, which itself was turned into “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” in 1985. Although while many people thought that their script was brilliant, Warner Brothers and producers, including Joel Silver and director Richard Donner, disagreed with Black’s decision to kill off Riggs’ in the ending, because they wanted to keep him alive for future sequels. 

They also felt that Black and Murphy’s script was way too bloody and dark, as they wanted a lighter, more comedic script, while their draft was completely serious, and it focused more on courage and heroics. Having Riggs come full circle, from the way he was in the first film, and how his relationship with Murtaugh and his family brought him back to life, helping him to let his guard down and learn to accept the love of real people. Other parts from Black and Murphy’s script, that were changed or left out of the final version of the script, is Leo Getz being only a minor character, and having only one scene and few lines of dialogue. 

A lot more violence was planned throughout, like the South African villains being even more vicious in the original script than in the final film. Their was a torture scene with Shapiro, (the female police officer working with Riggs and Murtaugh who is killed by a bomb in her pool) where she was killed in a very nasty scene. There was also a scene where Riggs is tortured by South Africans in a similar way like he was in the first film, but much worse. The script also included an action sequence, in which a plane full of cocaine gets destroyed, causing for cocaine to fall all over Los Angeles like it were snow. 

The ending of the script included a climactic battle, which took place on hills engulfed with a big brush fire, and after the destruction of the stilt house, Riggs chases O’ Connor who is a lot more dangerous in the original script. After the final battle with O’Connor Riggs dies very slowly after he gets stabbed. The last scene in Black’s script, was Murtaugh watching a video tape that Riggs made earlier, since he had a premonition that he might die, and in which he says his goodbye to Murtaugh. 

Following the studio’s negative reaction on the script, and their demands for massive re-writes, Shane Black left the project after six months, earning only one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars for his work, and never worked on any of the other sequels. Black said in later years in interviews how he considers his original script for Lethal Weapon 2, which was also called “Play Dirty”, to be his best work, and most intense script he has written, and how other than the scene where the stilt house gets destroyed, his script was completely different than the one used for filming. 

Black has said how the problem with the final version of the second movie was that they had too much comedy, and how he dislikes the other two sequels of the film (3 & 4), because of the way they ruined Riggs’ character. Despite many attempts by fans of the “Lethal Weapon” movies and of Shane Black, his original script for “Lethal 2” was never found, and it remains a highly demanded and most wanted of all of Black’s scripts. 

According to Richard Donner’s commentary for the film, although they rejected Shane Black’s original draft of the script mostly because of the ending where Riggs dies, they still filmed the ending of the movie in a way that they could edit it in two different versions of it; Riggs dying, or Riggs surviving. After a good response from the audience during test screening of the movie, it was decided to keep Riggs alive. 

The last shot of the movie showing Riggs on the ground, and Murtaugh holding him while the camera moves away from the scene into the air, showing the sunrise, was actually meant to be used in the ending where Riggs dies, which is why both he and Murtaugh don’t move during the shot, so in a way, the movie does end with Riggs dying from his wounds. 

Michael Kamen’s track “Riggs Dying”, and Eric Clapton’s cover of the song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, were composed and meant to be used only in the “Riggs Dies” ending, so George Harrison’s song Cheer Down was used for ending credits, once the “Riggs Lives” ending was chosen for the final version of the film.

Jeffrey Boam had written two different drafts of his script; one which was a hard boiled action script, and one which had more comedy. He was advised to mix both versions of and to make a new draft from that. He still ended up having to constantly re-write the script before and during filming, mostly because Richard Donner always wanted to improvise anything new while filming, or add something more or alter the scene. 

Boam had to do the same with his script for “Lethal Weapon 3” during filming of that movie. Regardless Boam does a fine job as he brings an alertness to his scenes, and a freshness to the dialogue. Boam adjusts the focus to allow for a domestic warmth, frustrated fast-food drive-thru monologues (another Pesci classic), a nail-gun defense, a beautiful Patsy Kensit, a surfboard decapitation, demonic punishment from greasy South Africans and a toilet bomb. The “bomb in the toilet” sequence was used as an early teaser trailer for the movie. The trailer ended with the toilet landing on Murtaugh’s car and the voice-over announcer saying “They’re not taking any more crap!”), 

Here is a funny connection where Mel Gibson’s famous Beretta 92FS that he uses in this film, is the same prop gun he would use in “Lethal Weapon 3” and “Lethal Weapon 4”. It is also the same prop gun Bruce Willis used in the original “Die Hard” trilogy. As both “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” are the greatest examples of a definitive action film. “Lethal 2” has created an invention of devising clever forms of danger for our characters to take.

There is, for example, the situation of Murtaugh and the “bomb in the toilet”. And the close call when Riggs’ trailer is attacked by helicopter gunships or the several astonishing chase scenes in the movie. When “Lethal Weapon 2” pulled into cinemas, it was greeted with open arms built by anticipation from expert Warner Brothers marketing, who made the sequel feel like the action fans house party of the summer. 

The films soundtrack was once again in collaboration with Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn. It was released on Warner Bros. Records and in 2013 La-La Land Records issued the complete score, plus the original soundtrack albums as its “Lethal Weapon” Soundtrack Collection in a eight-disc set.

“Lethal Weapon 2” was the third most successful film of 1989 in North America, after “Batman” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, earning nearly $150 million in the US and $80.6 million overseas. Where on a $50 million budget it has earned more than $227 million at the box office in it’s 1989 theatrical run. 

“Lethal Weapon 2” has been released on VHS and DVD numerous times, along with a singular Blu-ray Disc release. The first DVD was released in 1997 and featured the film’s theatrical version. The Director’s Cut was released in 2000 with footage added back into the feature and a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix. Since then, numerous sets have been released that contain all four films in the series. The theatrical versions was also released on Blu-ray in 2006, in the “Lethal Weapon” collection featuring a dedicated bonus disc of bonus material. 

Richard Donner’s “Lethal Weapon 2” is a sequel that barely breaks a sweat in comparing or topping the original feature. The pure matinee, popcorn-munching experience of watching “Lethal Weapon 2” barreling across the screen is something I embrace every single time I watch it. From the car chase opening title to the climactic “Diplomatic immunity!” shoot-out. The film knocks you virtually unconscious. At the time nor now sequels aren’t supposed to be this superior. They weren’t supposed to make previous installments seem second-rate, but “Lethal Weapon 2” makes it feel that way when it comes to the first film. 

As buddy cop cinema goes, it’s one of the finest examples of the genre, and thirty years later is still one of the greatest sequels put to film. Perhaps deranged hyperbole, but rarely does a follow-up outgun the original film as swiftly as “Lethal Weapon 2” does. It’s hard to trump the Gibson and Glover team as they deliver two hours of pure, hilarious and breathless, high-impact entertainment. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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