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'Lethal Weapon 2' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 07, 1989

"Lethal Weapon," that BMW of buddy movies, spawns "Lethal Weapon 2," a blacktop-blistering bad-guy-getter that's nearly twice as much fun. More than mere cops and robbers, the bang-up sequel serves as a fond portrait of superheroes with their pants down (literally) and a hopeful model of brotherly love.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are back as those tough but vulnerable detectives Riggs and Murtaugh, just a couple of sensitive guys with smoking guns. Bickering their way through the opening chase, they quickly reestablish that squad-car camaraderie we know and love. After three years on the prowl together, there's still that rough-and-tumble tug of war between the hot dog with nothing to lose and the paterfamilial Cosby of criminology.

Here the odd couple are pitted against the best of all possible villains, the steely Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland), a South African diplomat who heads a flourishing drug cartel. As the pompous, Pilsener-swilling son of a tulip farmer is entitled to diplomatic immunity, the crafty cops come up with an alternative to arrest that includes magnum-force fireworks and a demolition derby's worth of chases, all of it punctuated with four-letter fighting words.

Sure, these conventions are older than Columbo's trench coat, but there is a new wrinkle with the addition of plucky sidekick Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a runty accountant who laundered a half-billion dollars in syndicate money and is turning state's evidence. Pesci, who recalls a kinder, gentler, taller Danny DeVito, adds a dash of piccalilli to this salt-and-peppery duo, and upon his arrival, this "buddysomething" becomes a slap-happy, nose-pulling hommage to the Three Stooges. Pesci's precisely timed punch lines have you laughing on the way home and again a couple of days later over the dishes.

With this rapscallion around, there's never a danger of over-bonding, though some situations border on those caring moments once shared by Cagney and Lacey. When Murtaugh is trapped on his toilet, rigged with enough explosives for a shuttle launch, Riggs is tubside. "I'm going to die on the toilet, aren't I?" asks Murtaugh, moist-eyed. "Guys like you don't die on toilets," says Riggs tenderly. And the camera closes on their hands locked tight, lingering on the black and white.

Obviously color is an issue in this anti-apartheid thriller. Maybe it's conscience, maybe it's convenience now that the Russians are our buddies and we've just about rounded up all the Nazis. In the tradition of the genre, Riggs mocks the enemy: "Well, well, it's the master race," he says, a` la Hogan facing down Col. Klink.

A melting pot myth, the movie portrays a racial idyll -- the way we aren't but we'd like to be. Spike Lee would be quick to point out the lie, but Richard Donner, who directed both "Lethal Weapons" as well as "Superman" and "Ladyhawke," is certainly no Spike Lee. His specialty is fleshing out high-speed fantasy, not ve'rite'. He gives good gloss, and nobody's better at glib machismo comedy. Here Murtaugh's dignity comes under attack, not only on the toilet but under the gun. By the end of the picture his brand-new station wagon is a wreck, but his ego is intact, along with a new-found sense of humor.

As for Riggs, he's still recovering from his wife's death. The lonely widower, who has practically moved in with the Murtaugh family, learns to love again. The ambassador's secretary (Patsy Kensit) is the film's coltish sex object, who learns that women who sleep with action heroes do so at their own risk. While a house trailer is no substitute for the "Tequila Sunrise" hot tub, the lovers throb and nuzzle in a soft-focus frenzy that allows a fuzzy glimpse of the mad one's gluteus max.

In "Lethal Weapon 2," you've got your chases, you've got your explosions, you've got your destruction of property and death of innocent bystanders -- all this and bonding too. Why, they've given us "Buddy, It's You."

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