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‘Lethal Weapon 2’ (R)

By Roger Piantadosi
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 07, 1989

Yes, it's true. The good guys are good buddies and good cops -- and what an odd couple! -- and the bad guys are not just bad but diabolically, genetically evil, their guns bigger than their BMWs, which they of course drive because they're lousy with drug money.

And yes, there's foul language and lots of state-of-the-art L.A. car chases and gunfights -- with helicopters -- and at least one soft-focus love scene (which itself ends in a gunfight/car chase -- with helicopters). Yes, it's an action movie; yes, it's a cop movie. And yes, worst of all, here in the Summer of 1989 (actually, the Summer of 1987 II), it's a sequel.

But no, "Lethal Weapon 2" is no artless, autopiloted waste of precious movie-theater air conditioning. It's fun stuff -- crackling, playfully escapist summer fare that doesn't make you feel taken advantage of later.

"Lethal Weapon 2" is formula, but formula that revels in its unauthorized twists -- from slapstick bits by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover to a hilarious supporting performance by Joe Pesci as an effusively bothersome accountant assigned to their care. And despite a distinct lack of T-shirt sales and toy tie-ins, "LW2" turns out to be more transporting and whole than either "Batman" or the newest "Indiana Jones," and much funnier than "Ghostbusters II." Director (and co-producer) Richard Donner, breaking his own no-sequels rule (he directed "Superman" and "The Omen" and wisely stepped aside before he could be trampled by Roman numerals), has made the best of a skillfully silly script by Jeffrey Boam and a penchant Gibson and Glover have previously exhibited for, you know, acting.

The good guys, whose chemically correct family man/wild man routine distinguished 1987's similarly concept-laden original, pick up effortlessly where they left off: Glover's closer still to those idyllic retirement years of fishing and spending time with his family in his suburban split level. Gibson's grown somewhat less self-destructive, but he still lives on the edge -- professionally and, in a trailer off the coast road, geographically. Lesser actors, or those who might not stoop to a cop-buddy flick in the first place, wouldn't have half the genuine fun both Glover and Gibson have finding three dimensions apiece for detectives Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs.

What gets you through the all-purpose plot (the bad guys are also all-purpose: murderous South African white supremacist drug dealers) is Donner's attentiveness to character (not easy, considering the bulk and bombast of the film's stunts and special effects). What makes it fun is the perfectly realized, Three Stooges-inspired interaction among Glover, Gibson and Pesci (he was Jake LaMotta's brother in "Raging Bull"), a semi-repentant crooked CPA who is unspeakably delighted to be in the company of police detectives -- though the feeling's not mutual. "Okay okay okay," he chirps breathlessly, in a high-pitched cadence surely headed for household use among moviegoers. "All I did was launder half a billion dollars in drug money, okay?"

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