RECAP: Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989): Richard Donner
Lethal Weapon was a huge hit. This is the sequel. What do you do with sequels? You up the ante, either with more of everything or with new people. Fortunately, surprisingly, Lethal Weapon 2 chooses new people and eschews more explosions.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Riggs and Murtaugh reunite to counter a South African drug smuggling campaign led by one of its diplomats.
Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) form a dynamic duo of cops at opposite ends of the working spectrum. They open the movie in a car chase. Murtaugh drives his wife’s station wagon, as safely as possible, while Riggs cheers for joy at the thrill of the chase. That’s all you need to know about these two.
If you recall from Lethal Weapon, Murtaugh had his house trashed by the bad guys. In Lethal Weapon 2 we see the construction team working hard to repair the damage. Half of the house is wrapped in plastic, which Riggs calls an oxygen chamber. Murtaugh asks, “Do I look like Michael Jackson?”
That poor house and that poor car take beatings throughout Lethal Weapon 2. So does Murtaugh’s reputation. Poor guy is caught in severely embarrassing situations. First, his daughter. Rianne is a teenager and budding actress, and she’s appearing in her first commercial the night of the car chase. Murtaugh wants to keep it under wraps, but Riggs tells the precinct about it. Everyone watches her debut in a commercial selling…condoms.
Good thing Murtaugh is duct taped and terrorized by some bad guys that night, or they would make fun of him in the morning. Instead they wait a day to make fun of him. Later, those same bad guys try to kill Murtaugh by rigging a bomb to his toilet.
Poor Murtaugh sits on the can overnight before anyone checks on him. Murtaugh wants the bomb squad to save him, but he’d prefer it kept quiet, because they will all see him with his pants down. Even the precinct’s psychologist can’t handle seeing the man’s boxers at his feet.
The entire police force and fire brigade shows up to help save Murtaugh’s life, though his house half explodes. “Why didn’t they plant the bomb in Trish’s stove?” Murtaugh laments to Riggs moments before his backside is nearly blown apart.
Riggs, meanwhile, is getting his life together. He’s a fixture at the Murtaugh house, making dinner, watching TV, trying to pretend that Rianne isn’t flirting with him. While his house is still a mess, at least it isn’t being blown apart. Only shot to death. He still runs like a bull, chasing and catching a car on foot.
Riggs shows us a new trick. One day at the office, he takes bets that he can remove himself from a straight jacket. He does so in five minutes, because he can dislocate his shoulder whenever he wants. Does it hurt? Not as much as when he puts it back. It’s a neat parlor trick and a skill that will save his life later.
Another trick Riggs shows is moving on from his wife’s death. He still wears the wedding ring, but he does so on a date. He discusses his wife with Mrs. Murtaugh while making the family dinner. He’s spending more time with his dog and drinking beers, and less time sticking a loaded gun in his mouth. His time watching The Three Stooges remains unchanged.
Both cops are equally annoyed to babysit Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a crook-turned-witness who needs protection for a few days. Leo laundered staggering sums of money for a drug cartel, and he’s agreed to give evidence against the cartel. Riggs and Murtaugh need to keep him alive for a few days.
Leo lives a posh life at a posh hotel on the taxpayer’s dime, a fact straight-laced Murtaugh points out. Riggs protects Leo by shoving him out the window and into the pool several floors below, then punching Leo repeatedly because he didn’t know he wasn’t the bad guy.
Riggs and Murtaugh, thanks to Leo, stumble upon the drug cartel operating under the protection of the South African consulate and its chief diplomat Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland). The cops drag poor Leo across town working the case. That the State Department will breathe down their necks about it doesn’t bother them. Riggs is a guy who smokes in his captain’s face despite several no smoking signs. He’s not big on authority, despite being an authority.
Murtaugh, who was too old for this shit in Lethal Weapon, is much too old for this shit now, though he won’t admit it. These two bother each other, but the animus is toned down the second time out and the camaraderie cranked up. That’s called character development, folks, and I am here for it.
Lethal Weapon 2 is here to remind you that apartheid is bad. That’s why the villain is South African diplomatic attache Arjen Rudd. Rudd runs South Africa’s Los Angeles consulate by day and one of America’s largest drug cartels by night.
Though those facts are muddled for a while. After a daring car chase opens the movie and reveals a car trunk full of gold krugerrand, we meet the mastermind in his aquarium-adorned brutalist office, where he has a henchman murder the guy who lost the gold.
Rudd has many well dressed underlings, all white guys, working for him in the drug market. Riggs and Murtaugh bust cogs in this drug machine, including one afternoon at a special house in the hills where the drug lords count cash. It’s a surprise when Rudd appears on the scene. He reveals his position at the consulate (to the characters and the audience), and that he and his colleagues have diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested by the likes of Riggs and Murtaugh.
Once we learn that Rudd works for South Africa’s government, it comes as no surprise that he’s a racist. He tells an underling, seemingly both the only woman working at the consulate and the only person not involved in the drug trade, that all the police harassment stems from the blacks on the local force wanting to bring down the apartheid government.
Rudd’s probably correct about African Americans eager to see apartheid fall, but he’s also a major drug dealer. What drugs? We don’t know. How much money? That we know. At least a half billion dollars, all of it laundered by a certain federal witness mentioned earlier.
Rudd takes the diplomatic immunity thing too far. He first warns the police, specifically Murtaugh, to back off. When that plan fails, he kills cops, nearly everyone who works with Riggs and Murtaugh.
Diplomatic immunity does protect people from arrest and prosecution in foreign nations, but it’s not perfect. Nations can revoke immunity. South Africa was a reprehensible regime at the time, but I believe even that government would cut ties with a consul who ran a huge drug cartel and murdered several police officers. The US would respond heavily to a government allowing its own diplomats the same powers as Pablo Escobar and Saddam Hussein.
International relations aside, Rudd is evil and he wants to kill Riggs and Murtaugh. He believes himself above the law, and that makes him very dangerous. He has no qualms about operating in broad daylight. He sends two gunships to murder Riggs at night at his home. He has his guys drive with gold-laden trunks. He has a huge aquarium in his office. We don’t know what fish are in there–piranhas, it’s gotta be piranhas.
Riggs is always getting himself into scrapes. This is a guy who infiltrates the South African consulate by himself and holds a gun on six armed guards in a place where they could kill him and receive zero repercussions for it.
It should come as no surprise that Riggs still runs like a buffalo and leaps into any and all dangers. Take, for example, his ride atop a tow truck on a busy road. It all starts after one of the drug dealers escapes the drug house. With his car blocked by a tow truck, the perp steals it and drives away, but not fast enough that Riggs can’t catch it with one of his patented sprints.
The truck has its trailer down and the towed vehicle on it, thus its slow speed. Riggs hops on and climbs toward the cab. Terrific overhead shots capture the truck as it drives on a two-lane road. This road is busy with traffic both ways.
Riggs reaches the space behind the truck’s cab and taps his gun on the glass. The driver doesn’t plan to pull over, of course. He swerves the truck, almost knocking Riggs off and forcing him to drop his gun. The driver shoots at Riggs.
With the glass shot out Riggs can access the driver’s neck. He chokes the guy, but the driver has enough strength to reach the lever that operates the trailer, bringing it forward. Riggs has to let go the neck so his isn’t crushed by the trailer.
Riggs climbs the cab’s roof. Meanwhile, Murtaugh is following with Leo, but there’s little they can do besides pick up Riggs’s lost handgun. They drive on.
Riggs retreats from the roof to the grill. Cars whiz by in both directions. It’s chaos out there. The road is curvy. Here comes a red truck lumbering uphill to nearly strike the tow truck. The bad guy driver hits the brakes. Riggs rolls off the grill. Murtaugh hits the towed car. The car launches over the tow truck. The car hits the front of the red truck. A surfboard on the red truck flies forward. The surfboard crashes through the tow truck windshield and decapitates the bad guy.
Brake, crash, fly, crash, fly, decapitate. This physics problem was brought to you by Warner Bros. Unbelievable? You betcha. Fun to watch? Damn straight.
Later in the movie, Riggs endures an attack on his home. Somehow Rudd has discovered his address, and he sends two attack helicopters to fly low over the ocean to reach it. This on the same night as he’s getting to third base with Rika.
It’s Riggs’s dog that first alerts them to trouble. The dog has a door in the floor of the RV, from which he pops up and barks an alert, waking the two. Riggs acts immediately, getting clothes on both and taking cover. The choppers hover over the beach to allow the gunmen to shoot everything manmade on the property.
Riggs and Rika exit through the dog door and huddle on the stony beach beneath the RV. The gunmen shoot everything. Glass, walls, cabinets, the TV, a bottle of cologne, the inside of the fridge–everything.
They wait for a reload break to make their moves. Rika sprints for the truck as both choppers land and disperse the gunmen, who continue to pepper the RV, igniting a fire. Riggs pops up behind one to say hello and to use him as a body shield. Riggs take the machine gun and kills a gunman. He leaps atop his home and sprays three more bad guys with bullets, sweeping the gun back and forth like a garden hose. One of the pilots dies.
The other chopper flies away and searches the grounds for survivors. Riggs uses the time to make for his truck and drive away. He doesn’t get far before the helicopter finds the truck and shoots at it. Pissed, Riggs hits the brakes and unloads a pistol clip at the chopper, killing the gunman and forcing the helicopter to fly away. Sam the dog runs to catch the truck. All are well.
Lethal Weapon 2 holds nothing back. here’s at least five explosions in Lethal Weapon 2, and, more unbelievably, not one when the stilt house crashes. The movie, and franchise at large, never met a car chase it didn’t like nor a fist fight too brutal. No one is tortured this time, unless sitting on the can for 18 hours counts.
Adding Joe Pesci to the series worked out great. Leo is an accountant for the South Africans who laundered about a half billion dollars in creative ways. Though he never met an actual drug dealer, only couriers, Leo turned State’s Witness and will testify at an upcoming trial.
Leo enters Riggs’s and Murtaugh’s orbit when their captain orders them to babysit the witness in his posh hotel room. Room service all day. And it’s free!
The cops drag the witness around with them as they investigate the South African diplomats, which, if true, would give any police captain a heart attack. Leo is often asked to stay in the car, which he doesn’t always do, and the one time he does the bad guys nab him.
Leo is game to help his new cop friends. He defends them as the best cops the city ever saw. He cleans their homes and teaches them domestic tricks. He plays the part of the surrogate mother every male detective desperately needs.
The only South African woman in the plot is Rika Van Den Haas (Patsy Kensit), another of the many Afrikaans names Riggs butchers. Rika becomes Riggs’s lover because who can resist Mel Gibson’s charm and mullet? In the ’80s, no one.
Riggs never for a second considers Rika to be part of Rudd’s drug plot. He’s smitten at first sight. Why doesn’t he suspect her? When they first meet, at the stilt house, all the men are suspects. Rika at least knows some things, and might be the queen pin for all Riggs knows. He lets his dick do his thinking. Lucky for him Rika turns out to be clean, but a heel turn from her would have surprised no one save Riggs.
Rudd’s top hitman is Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O’Connor), who knows Riggs by name, if not reputation. It’s not until later that we learn Vorstedt once had a contract on Riggs. He was supposed to make a car crash look like an accident, and that’s exactly what happened, except they got the wrong Riggs. Martin’s wife died, the same dead wife who nearly drove her husband to suicide in Lethal Weapon.
Vorstedt proves himself a good fighter and better thrower of knives. He stirkes Riggs in his calf from several yards. He’s capable, has a backstory, and looks the part. Solid henchman all around.
Rudd carries a bevy of Aryan-type, suited guards to do his bidding. These guys look crisp in suits and pack serious heat. Not as crazy as Nick Nolte’s brand of terrorist in Lethal Weapon, Rudd’s crew still kills several police officers to carry out their plans. Also, they support apartheid at its most atrocious and publicized moment. Scumbags all around.
Late in the movie, after Riggs is nearly drowned and he’s learned that Vorstedt was responsible for his wife’s death, Riggs decides to take unilateral action against some diplomatic dickheads. “I’m not a cop tonight,” he tells Murtaugh on the phone. That’s probably not how that works, but we get it Riggs, we get it.
Riggs expects many people to be at the stilt house doing drug things. He’s driving there now. Murtaugh reminds Riggs the house belongs to South Africa, and he can’t go there. Riggs suggests that the house will have to come to him. I’m not sure he even knows what he means, yet. “They declared war on the police,” he says.
At the house is everyone in the drug cartel but Rudd. Leo is also there getting beat up. He stole their money, but they can’t kill him if they want it back. Makes for Leo’s bloody face. Leo’s got friends though, and they are on their way. OK, “friends” is too strong a word, but Riggs and Murtaugh better keep this guy alive if they want to keep their jobs.
When Murtaugh arrives to meet Riggs, he finds his partner wearing his sniper’s hat, so he knows he means business. He’s told to wait for Riggs’s signal, and he’ll know it when he sees it. No one doubts him.
Next we know, the house is shaking. The men inside think it’s an earthquake, this being Los Angeles, and take precautions. Murtaugh knows what it is–the signal–and he acts. He runs up stairs and shoots three men dead. Leo, tied to a chair, ducks to avoid being shot.
You guessed it, Riggs is below revving his truck as it’s yanking on the stilts supporting the house. Murtaugh rescues Leo and they escape the house. One of the bad guys shoots at Riggs, but he can’t shoot straight because the house is shaking. Riggs’s truck is bouncing off the dirt with each yank, but a few are enough to rip free a stilt and send the house careening down the hill. A parked car falls into the house’s void. A fire ignites, but it’s a wonder nothing explodes.
I’ve never seen a house fall down a hill in a movie before, and it looked fantastic. The effects team gave it all the sound a fury such a moment requires. I still marvel that they held back from explosions. In that scene.
Riggs and Murtaugh go alone to the Alba Varden as it waits to sail that night. Aboard this ship, the cops suspect, are all the drug dealers and all their cash, sailing back to South Africa and freedom from police harassment.
After knocking out a couple of guards they break into a locked container waiting to be loaded, where they find palettes loaded with drug cash. Murtaugh, calling it the “Donald Trump lotto,” pulls out a scant few $1,000 bills. He stares at them and laments that he could send his daughters to college with that money.
Putting aside how laughable that sounds three decades later, the dream is real to Murtaugh. Riggs says he should steal it. So what if it’s drug money; at least it will go to a good cause. (Isn’t money seized in a drug bust donated to school systems anyway? It’s a very short jump to give Murtaugh a pass for pocketing a tiny wad of bills.) Murtaugh puts the money away. Besides, they have better plans for it.
Suddenly the doors shut. Rudd has locked them in. They will next see the light of day in South Africa. The container is lifted above the ship when some shit goes down. The other half of that container was loaded with a car, and it now bursts through the container’s rear doors. It’s also on fire for an unknown reason. The car hits the water and thousands of bills rain down as well.
Rudd is finally mad, for the first time. He orders some guys to make certain the cops are dead, and two of them shoot the water. Dumb idea. Besides, they are still in the container. Riggs and Murtaugh, using rope they brought with them or found in the container, abseil to the ship surface and kill some guards.
Riggs goes below and kills more guards. He empties a handgun clip into a bad guy while reciting the names of dead. He does that sweet move where you wrap an arm over your gun arm and shoot from the hip. Looks cool; is cool. Then he rolls on the ground to shoot another guard perched on a ladder. Murtaugh, meanwhile, has yet to kill a man.
Riggs enters a big hole in the ship, where containers can be loaded and concealed. It’s a large open space, poorly lit (it’s night), and empty but for the cash littering the floor. Suddenly a knife enters the frame and Riggs’s calf. Vorstedt enters the frame. He’s picked a fight with the wrong man.
Or maybe not. The knife in the leg was a good opening gambit. Vorstedt delivers about nine consecutive kicks to Riggs before the cop can recover. Riggs roars and strikes Vorstedt’s groin, flips him onto the ground, and bashes his face good.
Vorstedt seizes the knife, still projecting from Riggs’s leg and turns it. Great screaming from Riggs. Riggs extracts the knife, revealing a blade about a foot long. The two have a battle of strength that Riggs wins when he plunges the knife into Vorstedt.
Now, this is the guy who admitted a few hours ago that he killed Riggs’s wife. Riggs knows it, but he has a better plan to end him. Instead of stabbing the guy again, he hobbles toward a red button dangling nearby. Vorstedt, still alive, gets to his knees and reveals–what else–a hidden gun. Riggs taps that red button and about three tons of galvanized steel falls onto the helpless South African diplomatic representative.
How’s Murtaugh doing? He killed a couple of guards. Good work, despite being much too old for this shit. Murtaugh finds Riggs in the hold. They think they’ve finished the job. Then a shot rings out. It’s Rudd, shooting from the conn tower. He laughs at them and reminds them of his diplomatic immunity.
Murtaugh shoots Rudd in the head with his pistol from 100 yards. “It’s just been revoked.”
Riggs gets some solid lines. Once he breaks into the consulate he tells the bad guys, “Don’t bother to call the police. I’m already here.” Then he threatens to “send you home with your balls in a Slinky.”
Murtaugh has some choice ones as well. The whole sequence inside the consulate is good stuff. Murtaugh pretends that he wants to immigrate to South Africa. It’s a crazy idea, and Murtaugh can barely say so, even though it’s a lie. Then he tells the white Afrikaans, “Free South Africa you dumb son of a bitch.”
Even the dangerous toilet bomb situation is funny. Anything to do with the toilet is funny. That’s Comedy 101. Murtaugh survives the explosion. Incredibly, so does the toilet. It’s blasted out the window and crashes onto Trish’s beaten car, but the toilet does not break. Give me that manufacturer’s phone number!
I think they moved Riggs’s beach shanty. In Lethal Weapon he lived on a wide sandy beach. In Lethal Weapon 2 he lives by a rocky shore. Better view, but why the move?
Murtaugh’s house, already a demolition site from Lethal Weapon, gets blown up worse. The toilet bomb was a funny touch. That toilet maker should have dropped some cash on product placement. Everyone else did.
I was shocked that Lethal Weapon 2 made political statements. In 1989 South Africa’s apartheid government was about the most vilified in the world, sure, but this is a Hollywood movie hawking Subway for God’s sakes. The bar is low.
Danny Glover says what America wants to say to South African government officials. He enters the consulate claiming he wants to immigrate to South Africa while Leo wants to talk him out if it. Even the diplomat is like, “Uh, no broo. You’re bleck.” Good advice from all parties.
Murtaugh drops the act and berates the consulate employees. “One man, one vote!” he shouts. He’s expelled from the consulate, of course. The effort allows Riggs to scout the building.
That South Africa’s diplomatic corps turned out to be Africa’s largest drug cartel was a nice slap in the face to country. Did it help elect Nelson Mandela? Probably not, but a lot of popcorn-chewing moviegoers probably felt better about the future of a country they barely heard about.
Also, the Murtaugh family is staunchly opposed to tuna, because their nets catch dolphins. Mammals we like; fish we eat. Got it.
The racist South African diplomats are also the most dangerous drug cartel in Los Angeles. Love it.
- I liked the twist of Rudd being a diplomat. However, early in the movie he orders his men to scare off the police. Why do this if you are so certain of your immunity?
Summary (40/68): 59%
Lethal Weapon 2 was the highest-grossing entry in the series, earning nearly double its predecessor and finishing third at the box office in 1989, behind Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s an excellent sequel, as sequels go.
Snappy lines and interpersonal conflict are on the forefront of every scene, but the two cops are clearly better partners than in Lethal Weapon. Adding Joe Pesci to the cast/pair was a dynamic, bold choice that also paid dividends.