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'Lethal Weapon 4': Saying nothing, but loudly

Lethal Weapon scenes July 11, 1998
Web posted at: 12:41 a.m. EDT (0441 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- I want to ask a question that, once and for all, needs to be asked, and I honestly hope you'll think about the answer. This is not rhetorical, so give it some thought: Why do relatively sensible people pile into theaters by the millions to watch movies that are about basically nothing except things blowing up?

This has happened not once, not twice, but probably 400 times in the past 20 years. How often do people have to see this before they're numbed? They get the fireball, or several of them, pounded into their skulls by an overplayed TV commercial, and entire families tear out of the house like the explosion's gonna spoil if they're not the first in line to confront it.

Are we really (as tons of people like to conveniently argue) all that wound up from horrible, ghastly days at the office? Maybe, but I really doubt it. It's more likely that we're embarrassed when we have to deal with honest emotions.

Sure, there's a primal response to seeing something go up in flames, but it has about as much to do with the day-to-day ordeal of being a human being as that uncomfortable feeling you get when you have to pee and there's no toilet nearby. You're feeling something, all right, but you might try responding to your world at a level that couldn't be duplicated by your knee when it's hit at the proper angle with a rubber mallet.

This occurred to me (yet again) during the deafening first sequence of "Lethal Weapon 4," which consists of an armor-clad gunman with a super-deluxe flame thrower and a submachine gun walking through what looks like the rainstorm that forced Noah to build an ark. He's got a tape machine that blasts generic heavy metal music into his helmet (soundtrack stacked to the ceiling at a record store near you, you can be sure) while he shoots up an entire section of Los Angeles.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, scared in a manner befitting cartoon bulldogs, hide behind a car as he does this. In an utterly useless stab at playing characters, they say "quirky" things and talk to each other about the importance of having a family. Honest to God.

Cars explode, buildings explode, flames leap across the street, debris rains down, and -- after Glover distracts him by, har-dee-har, stripping down to his underwear and flapping his arms like a chicken -- the maniac himself gets blown up, along with a tanker truck that flies 100 feet in the air, then slams on top of a police car. Which, amazingly enough, blows up.

To quote the audience on "Married With Children" when somebody mentions sex, or a body part that can be squeezed during sex, "Whoooooooo-hoooooooo! Hoooooooo! Whoooo-hoooooo!"

Richard Donner, who's directed every one of the "Lethal Weapon" installments, makes no pretense towards drawing you into the story; he just rears back and throws the movie at you like you're an intruder. Gibson and Glover, of course, play Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, mismatched partners on the L.A. police force who investigate loud, exploding, two-hour-long things.

As Isaac Newton posited, bad guys have to set the explosions in motion, so this time there's a load of baloney about an Asian slave-smuggling ring. Glover points out how distasteful slavery is through his sensitive words and actions, in case your ringing ears (or escapism-obsessed cranium) won't allow you to draw the conclusion on your own.

The brief periods of moralizing "story" that you get simply draw more attention to the pathetic kicking, shooting and punching, like the little black squares they superimpose over nipples when they need to show a naked lady on network TV.

Rene Russo (who I've forgiven before and will forgive again this time) plays Gibson's now-fiancee, who's pregnant. It was a little difficult for me to get all weepy over the homilies about families and freedom, however, when Gibson's answer to any problem he confronts is to either shoot it or smash it.

Compared with this, the first movie was almost quaint, in that Gibson was supposed to be verging on mental collapse, and Glover got drawn in when he did something suicidal while on the job. Now, they're both just a couple of wiseacres who evidently aren't afraid of dying because it's impossible for anything to kill them.

The brilliant comedian Chris Rock is also in it. For the money, baby, for the money.

"Lethal Weapon 4" is exactly that. Boom. Bang. Pow. Joke. Moral. Boom. Bang. Pow. Rated R. 120 minutes. I'm getting married, by the way. This has nothing to do with the movie, I'm just happy about it. Jill and I will be shooting for a romantic comedy, as opposed to the more popular psychological thriller.

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