Lethal Weapon is one of my favorite films; I saw it in the theatre five times. The film, directed by Richard Donner, turned Mel Gibson into an A-list star, made Danny Glover a household name, and launched the career of screenwriter Shane Black. It’s been twenty-nine years since the original, and almost two decades since the fourth entry, so I wonder what took Warner Bros. so long to turn Lethal Weapon into a television series.
The pilot episode was directed by McG, which is all some people need to hear. I liked Fastlane, but that wasn’t based on an existing property. Well… You know what I’m talking about if you were one of the few that bothered to watch.
As with all movie-to-television adaptations, changes were made, and liberties taken. This is the 21st Century and not the 80s, which is something people keep reminding me of every day. One change I don’t mind is that Roger Murtaugh is returning to work after a heart attack, as opposed to being “too old for this shit.” On the negative side (for me) is seeing Martin Riggs’ wife die on screen. I understand that seeing it happen is a shock to to those who haven’t seen the films; generates sympathy for Riggs; and helps explain his behavior; but it could have been done in a more subtle manner. Oh wait, I’m talking about Fox.
When you cast Damon Wayons as Murtaugh, you know that he is not going to play the role the same way Danny Glover did. That’s cool, because what he does works. In the films, Murtaugh was the lovable, gruff dad who was a tad bit out of step with the times. More importantly, he was the straight man, who could fire off a funny line when needed. Damon Wayons’ Murtaugh is funnier, without ever going over the top.
Casting the part of Riggs was difficult, as one would imagine. Clayne Crawford was outstanding on Rectify (which reminds me, I need to get caught up). He’s no Mel Gibson, but who is? Crawford is a good Southern boy from Alabama (in the series Riggs is from Texas). His take on Riggs is a bit laid back, but every bit as damaged. TV Riggs is on the back foot and all “Aw, what the hell,” while movie Riggs is on the front foot and like a caged animal.
As for the plot of the episode, it was rather perfunctory, and served only as a way for the characters to play off one another. The first meeting between Riggs and Murtaugh, was a bit over the top when compared to the movie, but it was pretty cool.
When you only have forty-two minutes per episode, there is no time to waste, and there was little time to let the characters breathe. Yet, Miami Vice could pull it off every week–go figure. Every time we got a chance to get a sense of Riggs’ pain, (and for Clayne Crawford to act) the scene was cut short. One time, they went into commercial after about two seconds. Other than at the beginning, the audience doesn’t get much of a chance to sympathize with the character. It’s as if someone thinks all we want to see is the crazy side of Riggs, and that’s a shame.
The look of Lethal Weapon is pure McG, which was fine for Fastlane, but looks out of place here. No spoilers, but in one scene Riggs enters a warehouse to confront the bad guys, and in the background there are two sports cars with their headlights on. It looks cool, but it makes no damn sense. Who does that!? Then there is the car chase that ends up on the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit. This rarely works in movies, and never on television. But I am an auto racing fan, so I am biased.
I think Lethal Weapon was better than it had any right to be. Crawford and Wayans make a great team, and were the best part. I think it can be a solid program once it gets past the growing pains stage. I am hoping to see character growth, and less of a reliance on shootouts, chases, and explosions. But it’s on Fox, so I’m not holding out hope.