Tech Flashback: The Lethal Weapon series 1987-1998 Part 2

Continued from Tech Flashback: The Lethal Weapon series 1987-1998 Part 1

We now revisit Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) which has the least amount of tech and is therefore extremely difficult to use as an example of a film that highlights the changes in technology. In a totally unrelated note, the sequel to the original Lethal Weapon (1987) is also the best and most well-rounded of the quadrilogy. Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs is less suicidal this time around, cheerfully going about his duties as an inefficient but tempestous policeman in 1980s Los Angeles. Danny Glover shines as the loyal and dedicated family man who remains the sole friend of Riggs.

Riggs and Murtaugh returns.
All screen captures from the Lethal Weapon Blu-Ray set.

VHS as a Plot Device

Just like the first movie featuring these two overworked policemen, VHS plays a prominent role and once again a tool that helps Sgt. Murtaugh crack the case (and the setting of the final faceoff). Unlike the NSFW video Sgt. Murtaugh views in Lethal Weapon, he watches a poorly shot home video of his own family at the docks. Today, such poor quality is inexcusable with even digital cameras capable of rendering an excellent resolution using an AVCHD or MP4 container. High-end digital camcorders are quickly being supplanted by high-resolution ILCs/DSLRs that double as video recorders making home videos easy and accessible for everyone. There's also the ubiquitous camera phone, which makes up for its limited video capabilities by being extremely portable. If the Internet was around in 1989, Murtaugh could have solved the case in 2 minutes by Bing-ing or Google-ing Alba Varden, though an online search would have removed any indication of Murtaugh's keen memory and detective skills.

Murtaugh prepares his trusty VHS player.

Chase Scenes

Mel Gibson's memorable car vs. man chase scene is somewhat revisited in the sequel's opening minutes as Riggs and Murtaugh opens the film in a raucous bumper to bumper run. It's very, very difficult to film a believable chase scene in the streets of any city in 2013 especially if the audiences are aware of available traffic and map apps and live websites. I'm not a dedicated user of smartphone maps but even I understand how efficient they are (Apple Maps not included). High-speed motorcycle scenes like the one in Bourne Legacy (2012) worked because online maps cannot hope to track the traffic and ever-changing directions in the horrendously confusing streets and alleys of Manila. However, Los Angeles in 1989 was considerably tamer even in the most congested places and a quick look at online maps would've helped Martin and Roger catch the villains in the first five minutes of the movie. Moreover, anyone with a camera phone would have uploaded to the Internet the low-flying helicopter minutes before it had even arrived to pick up the dastardly South Africans. The sheer inefficiency of managing the police cars could have been avoided if the police officers were carrying around smartphones. An example of how efficient using an online map could be when racing after a felon on foot could be seen in the first episode of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock (2011). 

Lethal Weapon 2 briefly flashes to the police communications center as the dynamic duo barrels across the highway towards the escaping foreigners. The dispatch team's equipment isn't nearly as helpful as apps or websites such as, Nokia/Bing/Google maps or government live traffic cams. So the next time you watch a chase scene across a city by car, scratch your head and wonder why they didn't bother to use any free online live traffic videos or at least crowdsource what they needed to locate the criminals.

The Best

There are many reasons why Lethal Weapon 2 was the best of the series but two infrequently mentioned reasons is British sex kitten Patsy Kensit in her American debut and Joe Pesci's Leo Getz. As much as I love Rene Russo's turn in Lethal Weapon 3, Patsy Kensit gave the series a sweet and sensual glow that softened (and hardened) Riggs. Although I would have liked the filmmakers to choose the less violent fate of her character (as it was rumored she was to appear unscathed in an alternate ending), I must admit her eventual demise was startling, painful and necessary considering the merciless nature of the antagonists. There are many controversial themes in Lethal Weapon 2 including a visit to the South African Embassy, racism, police assassinations, and diplomatic immunity, but one that most people might have missed are the crimes of money launderer Leo Getz, explained in minute detail by the lovable Joe Pesci. Joe Pesci's appearance here showed tinges of his deft skills as a character actor (as seen later in his career in the 1994 movie With Honors) and it's understandable why audiences embraced his presence and allowed him to appear in the next iterations of the series.

Riggs/Mel Gibson charms the lovely Rika/Patsy Kensit .

There are many plot holes in Lethal Weapon 2, including its overly dramatic finale where diplomat Arjen Rudd shoots Riggs and is in turn shot by Murtaugh while standing on top of the highest deck of a container ship (Rudd and Murtaugh's bullets could never cross that distance and even if their peaguns were powerful enough, the projectiles would have lost much accuracy at that height and angle).  However, Lethal Weapon 2 is easily an excellent example of a great cop action flick and should be the standard of great buddy copy entertainment.

Continued in  Tech Flashback: The Lethal Weapon series 1987-1998 Part 3


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