What’s in a movie name? In the case of Lethal Weapon 3 you tend to expect more of the same shoot-‘em-up, blow-‘em-up, crash-‘em-up that you got in Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2. And you get it. But on video you get a surprise, too: Exploding buildings and gunfire lose something in the translation from big to small screen, and details that are dismissed in theaters take on a new dimension on TV. Now that 5 hours and 40 minutes of Lethal Weaponry are available on three videocassettes, you may find yourself noticing more than the endless Three Stooges homages. You might even catch some — shhh — character development. Call it the Civilizing of Mel.
In Lethal Weapon, Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh was introduced as a control-freak cop who gets partnered with a loose cannon named Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson). Disconsolate after his wife’s death, Riggs is a masochistic psycho who can’t decide whether to off himself or let some scum of the earth do it for him. In depicting Riggs’ private moments, director Richard Donner goes for the obvious — there’s a big Russian roulette scene — but occasionally he favors subtlety. By focusing on one of Riggs’ many vices — his constant smoking — Donner shows us the beast within.
By the end of the first movie, Riggs has begun to rejoin the human race, and everything about Lethal Weapon 2 is brighter and lighter. Contributing mightily to the comic bent of this installment is Joe Pesci as protected witness Leo Getz. And again, the key to Riggs’ progression is his cigarettes. All the way through the movie he puffs only to huff and puff, and the gag’s payoff comes at the end, when, lying close to death, he tells Murtaugh to get rid of his cherished smokes because ”they could kill you.”
Lethal Weapon 3 presents us with a dramatically nicer Riggs. Still lethal, but considerably less Neanderthal, he’s a well of emotions, tearfully confessing in one scene that he doesn’t want Murtaugh to retire. Even more astonishing is his romantic involvement with Lorna Cole (nicely downplayed by Rene Russo), an Internal Affairs cop who is every bit his equal. Cole is no bimbo lunchmeat like LW2’s Patsy Kensit — in fact, Murtaugh and Riggs have to join up with her to locate a stash of stolen guns and ”cop killer” bullets before they find their way into the hands of gang members.
Comedy is the undercurrent in LW3, but it isn’t supplied by Pesci, who’s back for no good reason. No, all the jokes are reserved for sex and cigs. Seduction takes a humorous bent when Riggs and Cole get turned on comparing their battle scars. But even honest emotions aren’t the biggest clue to Riggs’ transformation into a complete human being. It’s his cigarettes, or in this case, his lack of them. In LW3 he has supposedly quit, but with each turn in the action — whether he’s dangling precariously from a cable or busting up a drug deal — Riggs starts to light up. Murtaugh manages to thwart every attempt. The surgeon general couldn’t have scripted it better herself.
The next logical question, of course, is that if Mel-as-Martin has gone through such a complete metamorphosis, do we need a Lethal Weapon 4? Sure, and here’s how it’ll play: Riggs is back on the smokes, but he and Murtaugh discover an international drug ring that uses a new method to deliver a contact heroin high. To that end, the villains have stolen a truck carrying 50 cases of ”The Patch,” see… Lethal Weapon: A- Lethal Weapon 2: A Lethal Weapon 3: B+