Though it was far from the first buddy movie, Lethal Weapon sort of perfected the form. So many of its particulars weren’t that remarkable on paper. The partners being separated by race, age and temperament, yet forging a bond all the same, all of this was old-hat even in 1987. The alchemy of Lethal Weapon’s success came down to the idiosyncrasies of its players. Shane Black’s witty, gritty script, Richard Donner’s expert craftsmanship and, above all, the incomparable chemistry between stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Lethal Weapon was funny, brutal, exciting and heartwarming in equal measure, and gave us two characters whose camaraderie was so engaging that they became the gold standard all buddy-cop duos would forever be held to. The adventures of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh continued on for three more films, the last of which arrived way back in 1998. The characters have laid dormant in the nearly two decades since, likely due to Gibson going supernova-insane and obliterating his public image.
Now Fox has dusted off Riggs and Rog for the small screen, rebooting Lethal Weapon as a weekly cop series. Gibson and Glover are nowhere to be seen, as Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans (Sr.) step into their shoes. The setup is still the same, for the most part. Riggs is a war veteran and sharpshooter who recently lost his wife (pregnant here) in a horrific car accident, leaving him despondent and dangerous. Murtaugh is a family man who recently turned 50 (now recovering from a recent heart attack). Roger is inching up on retirement, and while not quite ready to pack it in just yet, mostly wants to have a nice, safe, comfortable existence. So of course he’s immediately paired up with Riggs, whose moth-to-light attraction to danger and minimal concern for seeing tomorrow rankle the old dog. Investigating a drug-related murder, the two gradually overcome their differences and learn to work as a team, even starting to like each other by episode’s end.
This new Lethal Weapon really shines a light on how much the original magic of the film series simply isn’t replicable. You can recreate the building blocks of Lethal Weapon, but not the soul of it. The pilot was directed by McG, and you don’t forget it. Everything is shot so slickly, every set piece rendered a music video, that it all feels hopelessly facile. A couple of the action sequences—a bank robbery thwarted by Riggs and an expensive-looking car chase that crashes into a Grand Prix racetrack—are fairly solid for television, but nothing else about the episode clicks. It bears repeating that despite its darker overtones (contrasted with the lighter sequels), the original film was extremely funny, but none of the lines here are worth anything. Even a talented comedy veteran like Wayans can’t do much with the one-liners he’s handed (and no, he doesn’t get to deliver Roger’s catchphrase, or at least a network-appropriate version of it).
Crawford is the true miss here. Gibson made Riggs a real live-wire. He seemed genuinely dangerous and unstable. Crawford, with his quickly evaporating Texan accent and his ‘Chris Pratt, hold the charisma’ exterior, fails to make Riggs formidable, sympathetic or winning. Wayans fares better, because at least he has presence, but again, he can only do so much with the material he’s given. It’s also peculiar that Wayans hardly looks or conveys Roger’s advancing age. He doesn’t look a day older than he did when he was Homey the Clown, which is odd since the actor is 56. Glover, meanwhile, was actually ten years younger than his character in the original film, yet did a far more convincing job of playing over-the-hill.
Needless to say, the actors don’t possess the same chemistry as their predecessors. Few do, but that’s what makes this entire project feel so especially useless. You could make a cop-duo TV series easily, so why call it Lethal Weapon, other than to pillage a recognizable IP? When CBS did this exact same thing earlier this year with Rush Hour, it also seemed pointless, but less irksomely so because Carter and Lee don’t have the same iconic pull that these characters do. Riggs and Murtaugh are dear to us because they were embodied by those two specific actors with their unique, specific chemistry. You can’t simply slap their names on two other actors and expect the magic to return. Hell, the show doesn’t even bother to recreate the film series’ signature saxophone theme music, which could only have helped the situation. The TV incarnation of Lethal Weapon is as empty as reboots get. It’s a bomb under the toilet if ever there was one.
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