"You know, gunfights, explosions, sharks, the usual." That's the response Detective Sgt. Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) gives his pregnant lover, Lorna (Rene Russo) upon his return home after a particularly active night.
That's also the answer I gave my wife to the question, "How was the movie?" It just about sums up this two-plus hours of wild car chases, martial arts fights and shoot 'em-up showdowns.
Plot? Forget it. Character development, ditto. Dialogue? Don't make me laugh.
Actually, making you laugh is the one thing that "Lethal Weapon 4" sometimes does pretty well. Thanks to Joe Pesci, who is actually funny this time as lowlife hanger-on Leo, and newcomer Chris Rock.
Rock plays an obsequious detective named Butters who has secretly married the daughter of Rigg's partner, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). His best moments occur when everything stops so Rock can do what amounts to a stand-up comic routine.
Riggs and Murtaugh are drawn into a case of smuggling Chinese people into the country. Improbably, Murtaugh ends up hiding one of the families in his home. Unfortunately, they are a family that is of particular interest to a Hong Kong crime syndicate.
Of course, chaos and violence ensue.
"Lethal Weapon 4" is the installment in the series that throws out all pretense of being a real thriller. In "Lethal Weapon," Riggs got into dangerous situations because of a self-destructive streak.
Murtaugh was nearing retirement and resented being put in harm's way. Now that Riggs has exorcized his demons, this former crack intelligence operative apparently just blunders into situations that endanger his partner - and half of Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, this makes both of them pretty stupid cops, which is a long way down from the first film. They have become the Laurel and Hardy of police work.
The soundtrack is so obvious and ham-handed that one expects to hear Three Stooges sound effects when people get hit.
This might not be so bad, if it was all played strictly for innocent laughs like in a Jackie Chan movie. But the level of brutality, particularly in a final fight, is so high, and the shift in mood so sudden, that the audience is invited to laugh right through some scenes of extreme cruelty. Director Richard Donner has no clue on how to mix the two elements artfully.
In one scene that borders on sadism, Riggs and Murtaugh keep up their comedic patter while a bad guy grieves over the body of his dead brother.
There are shortcomings in the dialogue, as well. Gibson and Russo have a nice chemistry, but they talk like they just met. Rock and Pesci have the best interactions, but they belong in a slapstick spinoff by themselves.
The partnership and friendship between Riggs and Murtaugh is supposed to be the heart of this series, but their level of bickering has become so petty and silly that one can't help but wonder if in a few years they should take over the Grumpy Old Men movie franchise.
"Lethal Weapon 4" careens from one situation to the next with the logic of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
While it is sporadically entertaining - I laughed more than during some reputed comedies - this is a tired formula that needs retirement.