Dammit, Riggs

We bought the Lethal Weapon set. Oh yes. So far we’ve watched the first three.

imagesOh the bromance. Oh Mel Gibson’s hair.

The third film’s opening credits are to Sting’s “It’s Probably Me,” which smooshy adolescent me thought was incredibly romantic and older cynical me realises is frighteningly stalker-ish. But when I watched the music video, as an extra on the disc (which showed yes, that is Eric Clapton on the guitar), almost all of the scenes it showed were… Riggs and Murtaugh. Fighting, making up, Riggs saving Murtaugh from a bomb, recovering from a fight or an explosion. There’s one bit with Rene Russo (the awesome ‘my scars are better than yours’ scene) but that’s the only time a lady gets in. Other than that, the song (based on its visuals) is actually about non-sexual friendship. Which makes it way more palatable. Although still a little creepy.

Murtaugh is a pretty straightforward family guy, a career cop, does things properly. Riggs, though… well, he might have been that guy, but his wife is killed in a car crash and when we first meet him he’s suicidal and quite unhinged. In the first film, the whole narrative is around Murtaugh being a stable point for Riggs, bringing him back from the ledge (there’s also a drug ring blah blah). It’s a surprisingly sober film as a consequence, and the humour is often a bit uncomfortable because it often stems from Riggs doing something dangerous – and we know full well that it’s because he doesn’t really value his life any more. The second film is not the same. While there’s still mention of the dead wife – we finally find out a bit more about the car crash – Riggs’ craziness has become zaniness. There’s less reason for it; now it’s mostly just comic relief, without actually being revealing of Riggs’ psychology. There’s no reason for taking crazystupid risks; they’re just stunts for stunts’ sakes, at least until another woman is killed and he goes a bit revenge-nuts. The third has a bit less of the crazystupid, and basically no Riggs psychology. In the first film, Riggs bares his soul when Murtaugh makes some crack about not being as willing as Riggs to kill someone, and Riggs replies that it’s the only thing he’s ever been good at. He’s a veteran of the war in Vietnam, he was involved in black ops… so he was a bit screwed up even before Victoria was killed, is the message, and this film gives some hint about exploring how being good at killing might conceivably possibly be used towards the greater good, in a cop. But the rest of the franchise backs the hell away from that idea and moves towards Beverley Hills Cop instead. This is disappointing.

Also, a significant part of Riggs is his hair. Oh those long flowing locks… they’re so very cringeworthy.

Meanwhile, I do not like Leo Getz. He is abrasive and annoying and pointless except for finding occasionally useful information. I presume he’s meant to be some sort of comic relief but it’s no relief to me.

Now, as a white Australian I feel slightly uncomfortable and obviously unqualified to talk about black American issues in reality, but it is interesting to me to consider how they are portrayed in these films. First and foremost, it’s positive (at least it certainly feels that way to me, and if anyone can point to me the ways in which it is problematic I’d really, really like to know!). Please note I do not say ‘equal’ or ‘completely fine’, but still… . In the first film, a black man – Murtaugh – gets instructions from another black man (whose name I admit I did not catch), and there are other black men on the police force. I don’t recall a single instance of racism towards a black person (which is clearly therefore unrealistic; and there is an unpleasant instance of Riggs being racist towards a Chinese-American character). Interestingly, there’s a fleeting but prominent look at the Murtaugh family refrigerator, and it features an anti-Apartheid sticker that was obvious enough that both my darling and I noticed. This was particularly interesting when watching the second film, where the villains are apparently Evil because they’re running drugs and using their diplomatic immunity to get away with their nefarious deeds, but actually they’re the villains because they’re South African. It felt like there was far more emphasis on their attitudes towards black people than there was on drug running. Early on, there’s a scene where the head honcho is talking about the police involved in investigating them – and he describes Murtaugh as a ‘kaffir’. There’s a scene where the same man is explaining in a condescending tone to his secretary just why the police are harassing him – it’s because they don’t like South African policies – and another time when the fact that black men ‘have guns and badges’ is said in such a tone as to suggest ‘… and this will be the end of civilisation as we know it.’ And Riggs is allowed to sleep with the South African woman only after she has disavowed the policies of her country. It’s not a nuanced political film, but it is undoubtedly a political film. The third film has a more problematised view of black Americans, with young black kids getting access to guns and indeed one of them – a friend of Murtaugh’s son – being shot by Murtaugh. But the black kids aren’t shown to be evil villains; if anything they’re more victims of the evil white bent cop, Travis – and the black boss criminal is helpless, just like all the various white criminals and indeed many police, to resist (I’m not saying that this is entirely a good thing, since victimhood isn’t helpful to anyone, but at least they’re not simply coded as Gangsta.) Finally, while there is no interracial sexual relationship, there’s Rianne Murtaugh’s infatuation with Riggs… which Murtagh is aghast at not because of the racial thing, but because it’s his baby daughter and Riggs (and hopefully for the age thing too).

There are a few women in these films. Trish Murtaugh is a sensible woman, supportive of her husband but clearly doing her own thing as well. There are a few female cops – including Jenette Goldstein, who was also in Aliens AND Terminator 2: Judgement Day! You rock lady! Rika is a brief love interest in 2, but the real passion is sparked with Rene Russo. Of course it’s a convention that they initially fight on the job and then fall madly into bed, but I kinda didn’t mind it too much here and I think it’s because of Cole’s professionalism. She is a good cop. She knows her job, she’s passionate about justice, and boy can she kick villains around when she has to. The scene where she and Riggs compare scars? Priceless. The scene where she deals with five baddies and Riggs holds Murtaugh back partly because he knows Cole can deal with it, but mostly because he wants to admire her fighting style? Even better. Her professionalism doesn’t detract from her femininity, for whatever that’s worth, and Riggs is as protective of Murtaugh as he is of Cole. It’s a delight to watch.

Now that we’ve talked about the fun: these films are actually about police brutality. We know that, right? Kinda makes it uncomfortable to think about, doesn’t it?

2 responses

  1. Stop at three. For the love of all things, do not rewatch Lethal Weapon 4.

    1. But… But doesn’t it gave Jet Li in it?! Everything is good if it has him in it!

      There’s no way my love will not watch 4. So I guess I’ll report back on just how bad it was 😜

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