LETHAL WEAPON R, 1987, 110 minutes, Warner Home Video, $89.95.
This superduper blowout begins with a shot of Mel Gibson in his birthday suit and just gets better. Likewise, we meet costar Danny Glover in the bathtub, feted by his family on his 50th birthday. Gibson is a martial artist registered as the "lethal weapon" of the title, a suicidal hotdog who's depressed by the recent death of his wife. Gibson is partnered with Glover, as a veteran detective and devoted family man who's playing it safe as he begins his sixth decade. Eventually, this odd couple becomes a crack team -- as entertaining as Nolte and Murphy in "48 Hrs.," but twice as believable. Here, they puzzle over a prostitute's suicide, finally linking her death to a narcotics network that goes back to the Vietnam War. Gary Busey, as a vile henchman, proves a worthy opponent for the wisecracking duo. Richard ("Superman") Donner directs this snap-crackling, pistol-packing .44 magnum entertainment, which thanks to its twists and character complexities also happens to be a thinking person's thriller. Rita Kempley RIVER'S EDGE R, 1987, 99 minutes, Embassy Home Entertainment, $79.95.
This horror movie about the deterioration of the moral fiber among teens was a cause ce'le`bre for some critics earlier in the year, and, if they applauded, it seemed to be for reasons of verisimilitude -- because it had uncovered this year's "shame of the nation!" Nothing could be further from the truth. Written by Neal Jimenez, the movie -- based loosely on a case in Milpitas, Calif. -- is about a heavy-metal teen who throttles his girlfriend, rapes her, then walks away, leaving her nude body behind. Afterward, the murderer, played by Daniel Roebuck, grabs a couple of brews, then goes to school to tell his friends. The movie's point of view is basically that of alarmed parents: It tells us that the kids aren't all right, that these casually cynical kids who drink beer, smoke pot and hang out at the arcades are roaming, amoral zombies -- voidoids -- and that their emotions have been so worn away that they can't even react to the death of their friend. Directed by Tim Hunter ("Tex"), the movie has the hystericalpunch of a New York Post headline (and about as much substance). Still, on an emotional level, when the movie shifts the focus away from its cautionary message, it has a raw, eerie power, especially when Dennis Hopper, as a psychopathic ex-biker, is on the screen. Hal Hinson PROJECT X PG, 1987, 90 minutes, CBS Fox Video, $89.98.
With his Ewok eyes and De Niro-like intensity, Willie, a medical research chimp turned actor, proves that you too can be a star. This unabashedly political, unashamedly sentimental look at the ethics of animal pain versus human progress finds our primate protagonist torn from his idyllic life in the wild by poachers. He is then sold to a university research program, where he learns sign language from serene staffer Helen Hunt. When her grant is not renewed, Willie is drafted for a weapons-testing project involving chimp pilots. Matthew Broderick, a grounded airman sentenced to monkey duty, eventually learns that Willie can communicate. Once he has come to think of the animal as a friend, he learns the dark truth about Project X. Jonathan Kaplan directs this melodramatic tear-jerker, aimed at, but perhaps too intense for, young, impressionable viewers.
-- Rita Kempley ORGY OF THE DEAD R, 1965, 90 minutes, Rhino Video, $19.95.
Hilarious, stupefying and deliriously inept, "Orgy of the Dead" belongs to that select cinematic subspecies, the film du jeer, best viewed with a rowdy crowd of like-minded ridiculers. A movie intended to satisfy "every over-sexagesimal adult," or so the original ads confusingly promised, "Orgy" was written by Edward D. Wood Jr., fabled director of the cultish camp howler "Plan 9 From Outer Space," here adapting a "novel" whose scenario consists of lengthy, cellulitic stripteases performed in a graveyard where a pair of bound-but-not-gagged passers-by look on haplessly. Mincing mystic Criswell, a geek baring gifts, summons the ultra-coiffed Ghoulita ("Come forth, O princess of darkness!") and both preside over an innocently tacky burlesque revue -- the auditions of the damned, as it were. Near the fade-out, Criswell decides to spare the life of the captured woman but sentences her mate to death because "No one wishes to see a man dance." Shot in the wonder and majesty of "Astravision and Sexicolor," the film, however indescribably dumb, still seems more up front about its sexual exploitation than, say, "Fatal Attraction" does. And the wigs alone are worth the video rental fee, which is probably more than most of them cost.
Tom Shales DER FREISCHUTZ Unrated, 1981, in German with subtitles, 150 minutes, Home Vision, $49.95.
Musically and thematically, Carl Maria von Weber's richly romantic opera looks in two directions: sometimes backward to Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and often forward to the works of Wagner. The best segments of this drama of thwarted love, jealousy and a pact with the devil are -- literally -- haunting. Its spookiest moment is the famous "Wolf's Glen" episode, in which a hunter casts magic bullets amid animal noises and mysterious apparitions. This production, for the Wu rttemberg State Opera, Stuttgart, is very well sung, with a lot of effectively spoken dialogue. The staging stresses peasant naivete' and calls for a rather energetic suspension of disbelief, but that is probably inevitable in producing for a 1980s audience a work so deeply rooted in its own special time and place.