Everyone likes formula movies. That's what you're admitting to when you show a preference for a certain kind of genre pic: you're buying into a set blueprint. But there has to be more than that. Something that delivers plot surprises, intrigue, laughs or excitement. This extra ingredient is what separates Die Hard from the almost identical Under Siege, and Lethal Weapon from Lethal Weapon 4. The main gimmick in the first was that Riggs was so suicidal, he didn't care if he lived or died. The central gimmick in this fourth instalment is that Riggs has a new haircut.
Cinema is about escapism while real life is mostly about growing fat, old and boring, and the makers of LW4 have confused the two. "We're too old for this shit," Riggs and Murtaugh chant throughout the entire and overlong movie. "Yes you are, and so are we," you'll shout back, before demanding that Kurt, Bruce, Sylvester, Arnold and, yes, even Mel should retire from action flicks and make way for younger blood like Ben Affleck. So while Lethal Weapon dealt with drugs, Two fought South African smugglers and Three tackled police corruption, Four is about babies. And action pics should feature babies as often as Merchant Ivory flicks should feature instruction in field-stripping an AK-47.
So everyone's happy and settled and not at all mad or reckless. "How was your fishing trip?" asks pregnant girlfriend Cole as she does the washing up. "The usual," replies Riggs, "shooting, explosions, fights." It's The Last Action Hero meets Neighbours. But, apart from that, the formula stays much the same.
There's the now mandatory opening Boom!-scene, involving an armoured perp with a flame-thrower and Roger in boxer shorts. There's Leo Getz being foul-mouthed, annoying and completely superfluous to the story. Again. There's Cole with a hefty bun in the oven, not having an awful lot to do apart from be rescued. There's new cop Butters (Rock) being cocky and competing for annoyingness with Getz. And, of course, there's the captain who's still saying: "Ooh, you crazy guys, it's thanks to you this department can't get no insurance."
There are a few new plot twists on offer. But the question of who's the father of Roger's grandchild is hardly taxing. Still, the action set-pieces are uniformly excellent and by far the best in the series, and above all there's Hong Kong martial-arts superstar Jet Li, who accounts for one-and-a-half of the stars awarded here. He's the sort of prize bad-ass bad guy who was replaced by lame English thesps in the early '90s. Was anyone scared by Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies? Exactly.
Li is transformed into an American bad guy with the speed and flair of his Eastern heroes intact. He kicks the crap out of Riggs, intimidates those who oppose him (or, presumably, dishonour his Shaolin temple) and is evil incarnate in every way. Such is his hardness that Riggs and Murtaugh have to resort to the sort of underhand techniques - - ganging up, using metal pipes, etc - - that villains normally dish out on the good guys.
But even if you can accept all the lightweight occurrences that pass for a storyline and genuinely want to watch the lives of action heroes unfold like a $140 million soap opera, LW4 fails to deliver 50 per cent of its action/comedy remit. It's simply not that funny, despite spending much of its running time trying to be. There's nothing so feeble as a protracted played-for-laughs scene that doesn't provoke many laughs.
Enough's enough. Riggs used to be crazy while Murtaugh was the family man, but now they're two oldies with badges and guns. The balance between action and drama is wrong, the stabs at humour are woefully misdirected and it's as if the swearing and violence have crept into what's essentially a family-orientated spree from some other, more mean-spirited outing. Pray this Gibson/Glover offering is the last.
The world of Lethal Weapon 4 is one where bullets don't hurt, where cops don't need to live within the law and where 'likable' characters are a hundred times more important than a cohesive plot. You're very welcome to it.