LETHAL WEAPON Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Traci Wolfe. Directed by Richard Donner. 1987. MPAA: R. (Warner cassette, Hi-Fi stereo, 110 min., $89.95; LV disc, $34.98).
This hard-hitting, fast-paced action-thriller loses absolutely none of its excitement on a small screen. When it opened in theaters last March, audiences were drawn to the teaming of two disparate actors, Gibson (of the "Mad Max" series) and Glover (of "The Color Purple" and "Silverado") -- and a second viewing on tape confirms the wisdom of their teaming, for the electricity is instantly apparent and believable.
Gibson plays a former Green Beret, a suicidal widower who's also a Los Angeles narcotics detective. He has astonishing abilities with an automatic pistol, and he also hasn't forgotten how to kill with his bare hands or legs. Indeed, he's the title player, a walking lethal weapon -- one that other cops think may be crazy. His new partner, Glover, is also a Vietnam vet, but one who has apparently adjusted well to civilian life. He has a wife (who can't cook) and several beautiful children, the eldest of whom has eyes for Gibson.
Like any good cop movie, "Lethal Weapon" carefully sets its characters in a maze of a plot. A prostitute who jumps to her death at the start of the movie turns out to be the daughter of one of Glover's old Army buddies, a man tied into a vicious international heroin-smuggling ring that originated in Vietnam. The group is comprised of a rogue general and several fanatical mercenary followers who obey his every command. Ryan, an underrated actor who spent years on soap operas, is chilling as the cruel druglord, and Busey, in a small, uncharacteristic role, is terrifying as his chief henchman. Wearing an albino tint to his hair, Busey makes one of the eeriest screen villains in years.
Written by young screenwriter Shane Black (who also co-wrote the amusing teen comedy "The Monster Squad"), "Lethal Weapon" does have one scene of human torture that I find needless. It adds nothing and, in fact, undercuts the overall quality of the movie. Otherwise, thanks to Donner's intelligent direction, the sharp performances and some incredible stunts and special effects, "Lethal Weapon" hurtles along, through well-staged chases and fight scenes, to a fantastic climax. From first frame to last, this is a movie that dares you to hang on. But it is strictly for adults. VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE/ THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP For adults only: Danny Glover (left) and Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon."