Greatest Movie Series
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The "Lethal Weapon" Films




Lethal Weapon (1987)

Lethal Weapon Films
Lethal Weapon (1987) | Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) | Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) | Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

The "Lethal Weapon" Films - Part I
Lethal Weapon (1987)
d. Richard Donner, 110 minutes, 117 minutes (director's cut)

Film Plot Summary

The credits, accompanied by the tune "Jingle Bell Rock" (sung by Bobby Helms) played atop nighttime aerial views of Los Angeles a few weeks before Christmas. The camera zoomed into the window of a penthouse at the top of a round Century City LA high-rise where a scantily-clad young woman, later identified as 22 year-old Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) was snorting cocaine and ingesting pills. Obviously hallucinating, the half-naked female stood on her balcony, and then jumped from its railing to the street many stories below, landing on the top of a parked car - an apparent suicide.

The next scene introduced the film's two main characters, both naked: veteran LAPD Detective Sgt. Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), an African-American celebrating his 50th birthday in his bathtub (although depressed about his age), with members of his large family including his wife Trish (Darlene Love) and gorgeous teenaged daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe), and younger 37 year-old LAPD Detective Sgt. Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), tattooed, wild-haired, beer-drinking, and living alone in a parked, beachside camper-shell trailer with his collie dog Sam. Riggs emerged from his bed to strut bare-assed into his kitchen for a cold beer and greet his collie at the door, while a day-time game show (Family Feud) played on his television.

Murtaugh had been receiving phone calls for three days from an old Vietnam War buddy named Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins) that he hadn't spoken to in 12 years. [They had served together in 1965 at La Drang Valley where Hunsaker saved Murtaugh's life - "Took a bayonet in the lungs."] His first case of the day was to investigate the scene of the apparent suicide, where he was shocked to learn that the victim was Michael's daughter - "Prostitute...one arrest. No convictions. Born in Tennessee." A witness to the jump was a hooker named Dixie (Lycia Naff), and as she left, Murtaugh joked to her: "All dressed up and no one to blow." Elsewhere in LA, Riggs was doing an undercover drug deal (for one-hundred thousand dollars) with Christmas tree lot owners - he displayed his gun and badge to arrest them, and during the drug bust shot three of the suspects as LAPD backup arrived to assist. When the fourth suspect held a gun on Riggs' throat, the crazed cop yelled: "Shoot him! Shoot the prick! Shoot me!" ignoring his own safety, until he could turn disarm the man.

That night in his trailer, Riggs was evidently depressed and suicidal following the death of his wife Victoria (he held their framed wedding pictures). He loaded his gun with a hollow-pointed bullet and held the barrel against his head and in his mouth in a deadly game of Russian roulette - ready to pull the trigger. He relented from his death wish, but broke down, weeping: "I miss you...I'll see you later. I'll see you much later." [He had been married for 11 years before his wife was recently killed in a car accident.] At work, his superiors worried that Riggs was "on the edge," "psychotic," and "suicidal" and shouldn't be in the field. The autopsy in the Hunsaker case determined that it wasn't a suicide but a homicide - Amanda had used barbiturates (and the many pill capsules lying around had been doctored with Drano): "If she hadn't jumped, she would have been dead inside fifteen minutes." Evidence also revealed that someone else had been in the bed with Amanda just before she died.

Murtaugh was told that he had to partner with Riggs who was transferred from another unit - "on loan from Dope. Real burn-out. On the ragged edge" - and he reacted with: "I'm too old for this s--t" (a phrase repeated many times in the film). From his files, the reluctant Murtaugh learned that Riggs, who carried an impressive weapon (9mm Beretta), had worked in the Phoenix project (US Special Forces) in Vietnam: "Assassination stuff," and that he knew martial arts ("Tai-chi and all that killer stuff"): "I suppose we have to register you as a lethal weapon."

In an LA nightclub, albino chief enforcer/mercenary Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey) was the vile right-hand man of a drug lord/mastermind - retired, ex-Vietnam War General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan), a major heroin drug smuggler. Joshua demonstrated his loyalty to his boss by having his forearm burned with a cigarette lighter. Murtaugh spoke to Amanda's distraught father Michael in his place of work (a bank), reporting that the autopsy showed Amanda had been poisoned and that it was a homicide: "she was murdered." Hunsaker had been trying to reach Murtaugh to "get her out of the stuff she was into. She was making, uh, videotapes. Pornographic videotapes." Since he claimed Murtaugh "owed him" for his past Vietnam War sacrifice, he begged him to find who was responsible: "Just find them and kill them."

The cop duo was called to the corner of Santa Monica and Orlando - to the scene of a "possible jumper" on the top of a building. In the dramatic scene, the crazed Riggs used an unconventional strategy of handcuffing himself to the suicidal man (a salesman named McCleary (Michael Shaner)), when he shared a cigarette. He then convinced the man to jump from the ledge - with himself ("I want to do it"), into a safety net many stories below. The jumper afterwards yelled: "He's out of his mind, he tried to kill me." Later, Riggs told his exasperated partner that he wasn't afraid to die, and the only reason he didn't kill himself with a hollow-pointed bullet was "the job." Murtaugh realized that Riggs wasn't trying to "draw a psycho pension" - he affirmed: "You really are crazy." And he worried that Riggs had a "death wish." Dr. Stephanie Woods (Mary Ellen Trainor), a psychologist at the police department confirmed: "When he goes, you don't want to be anywhere near him." Once again, Murtaugh uttered: "I'm too old for this s--t," stressed about being on the force for 20 years without a scratch, and with a wife and family, and now fearing: "I can kiss all that goodbye because my partner has a death wish. My f--king life is over...I'm a dead man."

The partners drove to Beverly Hills, to the address of: "Amanda Hunsaker's meal ticket" (Amanda's pimp?) - where they witnessed two well-dressed females with drugs inside the mansion. There was a brief exchange of gunfire with a lone gunman/pimp in the back by the outdoor swimming pool. He was wounded in the leg, as the females were handcuffed and arrested. When Riggs went to help the wounded victim, he threatened to kill Murtaugh with his gun. Riggs defensively fired at the man with two shots, and he fell backwards into the pool cover where he became tangled and died underwater. Murtaugh was grateful for Riggs saving his life, and apologized for berating him earlier. Riggs was invited to the Murtaugh household for dinner, where Rianne took a liking to the brash young cop. [Rianne was a typical teenager, grounded for smoking pot, and for sneaking away to date a blonde guy with dimples.] As Riggs left the nice family gathering, Murtaugh told him: "You make it through tomorrow without killing anybody, especially me or yourself, then I'll start trusting you." Riggs admitted that the only thing he was ever good at was shooting people in Vietnam from long distances.

Later that night, Murtaugh viewed a videotape of police evidence in the Hunsaker case: one of Amanda's pornographic videos ("Amanda and Her Friends" - a playful nude shower sequence with three other girls (Cheryl Baker, July 1988 Playboy Playmate Terri Lynn Doss, and Sharon K. Brecke)), and a copy of her Palos Verdes High School yearbook (Class of 1983). The next morning, Riggs wakened Murtaugh, who was assuming the Hunsaker case was neatly closed, with a theory about the hooker named Dixie. She had possibly witnessed Amanda's jump to her death in Century City, far away from her normal turf on Wilshire Boulevard. He believed that Dixie (rather than a man) had been in bed with Amanda the night she died, was paid to put the drain cleaner in her pills, and then after the suicide posed as a witness "to cover her ass."

During a shooting range competition of male one-upmanship (about the size of their guns and their accuracy at various distances), Riggs impressively shot six bullets at a far-away target, shaping the bullet holes like two eyes and a smile on the target's head. As the two approached Dixie's home (at 111th and Larch Streets) to question her, the house suddenly exploded before their eyes. Riggs analyzed part of the bomb, calling it "goddamn artwork...this is real pro stuff" - the device used a mercury switch, something also used by the CIA during the Vietnam War. One of the 6 year-old neighborhood kids named Alfred (Donald Gooden) reported that a guy posing as a gas meter-reader was seen at the property earlier in the day. He was identified as a white guy having blonde hair, and he had a tattoo identical to the one Riggs had on his arm - a Special Forces tattoo. The clues led them back to question Michael Hunsaker.

At Hunsaker's Palos Verdes oceanside home just prior to Amanda's outdoor memorial service, Murtaugh explained his suspicions: "Your daughter wasn't killed because of something she was into. She was killed because of something you're into." He believed that Hunsaker was going to spill his guts about everything - that was the reason that his daughter was killed ("They paid off a hooker to poison your little girl"). Hunsaker was forced to admit his shady past - during the war, he had worked with a group called Air America, a CIA front that secretly ran the entire war from Laos, in a special unit of mercenary killers known as "Shadow Company." The Vietnamese were bringing in heroin to finance the Viet Cong government. The Shadow Company burned everything and killed everyone, and then formulated a plan. The members of Shadow Company met together after the war was over, and with their sources still in place in Asia, began importing heroin into the US (with two major shipments a year). The Shadow Company was commanded by McAllister and run by ex-CIA, soldiers, and mercenaries, while Hunsaker's bank served as the "perfect front" to launder the profits of their heroin smuggling trade. Amanda was presumably murdered by the group when Hunsaker wanted to end the scheme, and tried to alert Murtaugh before her death. As Murtaugh attempted to have Hunsaker divulge more about Shadow Company, a helicopter rose up outside the home - Mr. Joshua aimed and fired at Hunsaker with a sniper rifle - and killed him through a window.

The next two targets of General McAllister (and Joshua) were to be the two police detectives, Riggs and Murtaugh, who had been informed of the heroin operation ("The police may know everything, the whole operation"). On a night-time street corner in downtown LA, while Riggs was questioning a hooker about Dixie, a vehicle sped by with Mr. Joshua firing shots at him - he survived the attempt on his life due to his bulletproof vest, although he appeared to have died. He caught a glimpse of the killer: "the same albino jack-rabbit son-of-a-bitch that did Hunsaker...I never forget an asshole." They decided to use Riggs' presumed-dead status to their advantage. They were summoned to the area near Murtaugh's home, where they learned that his daughter Rianne had been kidnapped (an envelope at the door contained a polaroid picture and a note: "Your Daughter Looks Really Pretty Naked"). Riggs was worried about the possible outcome of getting Rianne back: "We're gonna get bloody on this one, Roger." The kidnappers called and demanded that Murtaugh meet them at Dry Lake, Victorville, sunrise the next morning, to tell them what Hunsaker had told him, in exchange for his hostage daughter.

When Murtaugh drove to the meeting place, Riggs jumped out of the car to provide long-range sniper assistance from a hidden distance. McAllister's gang arrived in two vehicles and a helicopter, with about twelve bodyguards. Murtaugh was allowed to see that his daughter was still alive, and then he threatened with a live hand grenade. When it fizzled, he was shot and wounded. Riggs opened fire and killed the two thugs holding Rianne, and she fled in one of the vehicles. But when McAllister held a gun on Riggs from behind, he was forced to surrender as the girl was captured and all three were taken prisoner.

In the film's infamous shower electrocution scene, hostage Riggs was tortured (strung up half-naked, doused in water, and prodded with an electric sponge attached to a car battery) by albino villain Mr. Joshua and his Chinese henchman Endo (Al Leong) - demanding to know what he knew about a delivery of "a shipment of merchandise" (heroin). Although Riggs vowed: "I've told you everything I know," he was brutally tortured anyway, until unconscious. Simultaneously, Murtaugh was beaten up to reveal what Hunsaker had told him, although he refused to talk - the torturers refused to believe that Hunsaker had died before revealing detailed information about drug shipments.

Miraculously, Riggs freed himself by strangling Endo with a lethal scissors-leg grip choke-hold, and was able to rescue both Murtaugh and Rianne from a nearby room - as Joshua and McAllister fled and escaped. The two cops emerged in the downtown LA nightclub (on Hollywood Boulevard) and continued their pursuit of Joshua, who drove off in a stolen car onto the Hollywood Freeway. Riggs pursued Joshua on foot and attempted to cut him off, but Joshua eluded him by crashing one car and stealing another. Meanwhile, as McAllister fled from the nightclub in another car (with heroin in the trunk and other explosives), Murtaugh shot and killed the driver. He then watched as the car was hit broadside by a city bus. It blew up when the burning car detonated hand grenades in the vehicle, killing McAllister.

Murtaugh knew that Joshua would next head to his home: "My home, man. The son-of-a-bitch knows where I live," and they commandeered a car to get there, with additional units summoned. Outside Murtaugh's home, Joshua shot two policemen in their car and then peppered the Murtaugh home with bullets when he found it vacant. Riggs and Murtaugh rammed the empty police car through the front window into the living room of his home, and then arrested the startled Joshua. Murtaugh told him: "Looking for your General friend? He's barbecuing his nuts on Hollywood Boulevard." Then, in the finale on the front lawn, with Murtaugh's sanctioning, Riggs delivered a vengeful, hand-to-hand combat challenge to Joshua: "Whaddya say, Jack? Would you like a shot at the title?" - Joshua replied eagerly: "Don't mind if I do." After a vicious struggle, a shirtless and muddied Riggs was able to subdue Joshua with another scissors-leg choke-hold, but declined to break his neck: "It's not worth it." He declared himself the victor: "You lose." Murtaugh ordered: "Get that s--t off my lawn" to two officers, who then began to handcuff Joshua, but when he stole one of their guns and attempted to shoot at Riggs - both men returned fire and killed him.

On Christmas Day, Riggs laid flowers on the gravesite of his wife Victoria Lynn Riggs (1953-1984). He then visited the Murtaugh home, and returned something ("a present") to his partner (through Rianne) that he said he wouldn't be needing anymore - the hollow-pointed bullet which he had reserved for his own suicide. Murtaugh, realizing his friend wasn't "crazy," invited him in for Christmas turkey dinner, along with his "friend" Sam the collie - resulting in a disastrous confrontation with the Murtaugh's family cat Burbank. The film was capped by Murtaugh's last words: "I'm too old for this."

Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)

With one Academy Award nomination: Best Sound.

With a production budget of approximately $15 million, and box-office gross receipts of $65 million (domestic) and $120 million (worldwide).

This police-action film, peppered with witty one-liners, resurrected the buddy-cop film with the added twist that the odd-couple partners were mostly adversaries, due to one being semi-psychotic, erratic and suicidal, and the other a family-man with an impeccable by-the-book record, who was playing it safe and on the verge of retirement (and dreaming of spending time on his fishing boat). One of Murtaugh's classic lines to Riggs: "Have you ever met anybody you didn't kill?"


Sgt. Martin Riggs
(Mel Gibson)

Sgt. Roger Murtaugh
(Danny Glover)

Trish Murtaugh
(Darlene Love)

Rianne Murtaugh
(Traci Wolfe)

Amanda Hunsaker
(Jackie Swanson)

Michael Hunsaker
(Tom Atkins)

Dixie
(Lycia Naff)

Gen. Peter McAllister
(Mitch Ryan)

Mr. Joshua
(Gary Busey)



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