TBT: Lethal Weapon (1987)

30 years, anniversary, buddy cop, cops, Mel Gibson, Shane Black, TBT

Everyone knows the score when it comes to buddy cop movies. We’ll be introduced to two police officers and will quickly discover that, unfortunately yet hilariously, the pair are polar opposites of each other. No matter where the difference comes from it will create tension as the pair try to come together to bring down the bad guy. It feels like we’ve seen the set-up in every fucking way possible by this point. It’s a timeless classic that writers will continue to come back to. And who should we blame for this? Well, the idea of the odd couple is an incredibly old one but it was the 80s and 90s that really saw the whole buddy cop thing take off. As we all know, one of the greatest uses of the formula comes in a film that just so happens to be celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. It’s also a fucking classic film that I really just wanted to excuse to see after watching The Nice Guys. After all, there’s no such thing as too much Shane Black.

On Tuesday I discussed the fact that, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to distinguish between Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson in my head. I know I’m not a big fan of one of them but always forget which one it is. I think the confusion comes from my love of 80s movies. After all, Mel Gibson is the star of some of my favourite action films so I guess I assume he’s the one I love. He isn’t. He’s just the kind of crazy, anti-Semitic guy who rants about everything these days. Yet, once upon a time, he was the unhinged super cop grieving for his dead wife. Along with Danny Glover and thanks to a sharp script from Shane Black, Mel Gibson has become forever linked with the buddy cop genre. 1987’s Lethal Weapon quickly became the template for modern examples of these types of films and was the first in a long line of great scripts from Black. It’s an important movie in film history but, more importantly, it’s also a really good one.

Even though I’ve never been completely comfortable with the opening. Now I’m not talking about the death of a young woman as she falls from her top floor hotel balcony. No, I’m talking about the moment when Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family whilst he’s taking a bath. It’s so fucking weird. I get that it’s his birthday and they want to celebrate but give the man some privacy. Who wants their kids to sing happy birthday as their dad’s dick is on full show? What kind of kid would be okay with that scenario? It’s never sat right with me and it will always make me cringe.

Still, the moments passes and we quickly learn that Murtaugh is nearing retirement age and is looking for a quiet life. Obviously, that all changes when he’s partnered with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) who, rumour has it, is either crazy or hoping to get sick pay by acting crazy. You see, Riggs has seen shit. He was an expert marksmen during the Vietnam War and is still haunted by his past. To top it all off, his beloved wife has died meaning he’s living alone in an RV. He’s got something of a death wish but fails to finish the job himself. It gives Mel Gibson plenty of chances to stare wildly into people’s eyes and there are several weird and ugly close-ups of his unblinking, crazy expressions. So, why, I hear you ask, is this unhinged man allowed to continue working in law enforcement? Well, he’s just that good a detective, goddammit.

The pair take on the case of the dead girl and discover that the apparent suicide is actually something much darker. The find themselves running from drugs barons and blonde henchmen. Really, the plot isn’t really important. It’s just a generic reason for getting the pair into situations where they must shoot or fight there way out. There’s very little actual detective work but plenty of kidnappings, shoot outs, and terrible martial arts to make up for that. The thing that really matters with Lethal Weapon is Shane Black’s script. He, once again, created a strong and sharp premise that includes plenty of great back and forth between the main pair. It became the staple for the film’s to follow in its footsteps and pushed Black along the path to greatness. There’s action a plenty but this film is also funny and tender. It’s the kind of thing that, in the wrong hands, would just come across as absurd and stupid but, for some reason, it comes together. There is enough energy and drive from all corners that you can’t help but get swept away in the excitement. It’s a fucking classic.

TBT – Mad Max (1979)

dystopia, film, George Miller, Mel Gibson, review
With the release of Mad Max: FuryRoad it seems only natural that people will start to look back on Max’s place within cinema history. George Miller’s 1979 film not only introduced the world to fledgling actor Mel Gibson but also helped to define the action genre as we know it to this day. As a former emergency room doctor, Miller had a personal experience of the type of injuries he would go on to depict and saw them as the natural consequences of the type of mentality that would have people turn to violence in the face of a fuel shortage. Mad Max is an important film for plenty of reasons but it has survived for the last 35 years because it’s also a fucking great one. Whilst it never quite had the same impact of it follow-up film The Road Warrior or the final film in the trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, it it always worth revisiting the cult classic.

You may have noticed but dystopian is in these days: with the recent onslaught of YA adaptations of books like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or Insurgent, dystopia has apparently become something to strive for. In the ultimate hipster sense, Mad Maxwas helping define this film genre way before it was the cool thing to do. Set in Australia in the not too distant future, we are introduced to a society dominated by violence, anarchy and chaos. Biker gangs rule the roads and are only challenged by the Main Force Patrol (MFP), the leather-clad law enforcers of the day.
Their top member is our titular hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who is a skilled driver and lover of the chase. Already feeling the lines blurring between morality and immorality, Max is keen to get out of the game and spend time with his family. That is until Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang roll into town. With his friends and loved ones in danger, Max has to decide which side of the line he belongs on.
Mad Maxwas an odd film even by 1979 standards: in an attempt to make the film more accessible to international audiences by badly overdubbing the thick Aussie accents American ones. It’s fucking weird and just awful. It also helped propel the fresh-faced, pre-prejudiced Mel Gibson to stardom after Miller and producer Bryan Kennedy decided to cast unknown actors in all roles. Although, Mac Maxdidn’t find great success upon release and it wasn’t until the sequel that Gibson found his first American hit.
The film sets itself, and the franchise, up pretty nicely by avoiding any nasty exposition and getting straight into the nitty-gritty of the car-chase that would become Miller’s trademark. The future is bleak here and violence has taken over. It is a film about road rage and there is plenty of energy behind the action scenes. Even with his limited budget and lack of experience, Miller shows that he’s a director knows what he’s doing. The stunts are still on-point thanks mostly to the fact that they are real. Rather than making things less exciting, the shoestring budget as only made the film greater.
When you look at it in 2015, Mad Max perhaps does look simple and clumsy but there can be no denying that the passion and energy are enough to keep you invested. There are some frankly amazing moments during this film: there is a certain amount of weird, dark humour, some quieter emotional moments and plenty of action to keep any film fan happy. It also looks bloody great: cinematographer David Eggby used the Australian landscape to perfectly capture the vast and arid landscape of the future.
Really, Mad Max is all about the visuals because there’s not much else too it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film but there’s no denying that it’s a slow burner. It’s the least memorable of the trilogy because, in all respects, it is an origin movie. This is the story of how Max became Mad. The dialogue is hardly the greatest and mostly falls back on awful clichés. The characters are mostly undefined and forgettable and, even the main ones, are given no real depth. Max himself is hardly explored and you don’t really get any sense of him as a character.
Until the final act of the film when the narrative ramps up a gear and the revenge plot is born. Max suffers a great loss and cuts all ties with the MFP, choosing to go after Toecutter alone. This is where Miller steps things up a gear and shows great promise for the future. Max isn’t the great anti-hero we will eventually know him to be. Mad Max, though great in its own way, is an undeniably bleak film. Once Max’ has found his revenge (and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that) there is no real sense of catharsis. This isn’t a world that has any real answers but just creates new problems. Mad Maxgave birth to a major franchise that has stepped up a new gear with the release of Fury Roadbut don’t expect it’s opening gambit to leave you with warm, fuzzy feelings. Just one epic ride.