1987’s Lethal Weapon was the film that created the buddy cop genre. Created it. Sure, there were films prior to it that featured police partners or duos with charismatic rapport. But Mel Gibson’s Detective Martin Riggs and Danny Glover’s Sergeant Roger Murtaugh were the ones to spawn a distinct style of film that has persisted for nearly 30 years—a style of film that’s been successfully emulated, spoofed and respectfully homaged all within a single generation. Hell, Konami even made a game about… Space Police… which blatantly rips off the duo’s look.
But like anything else holy from my youth, it has now been remade into a soulless, hollow version of what made it special in the first place. A cheap cash grab to tap into people’s nostalgia and keep their eyes glued to the screen long enough to be force-fed car commercials.
That said, Fox’s Lethal Weapon television reboot “isn’t unwatchable” as my roommate and I so often mutter to each other at each episode’s conclusion, our own version of Riggs’ and Murtaugh’s “We’re Too Old For This Shit.” It has interesting interpretations of the characters and some promising storylines, but it lacks three key things that made its source material an iconic film franchise, one that spawned four sequels over 11 years and shot screenwriter Shane Black to fame.
Now, I wasn’t expecting a Canadian Rock group to create a titular song for the program, but I did expect something more identifiable. A huge part of the Lethal Weapon franchise was the Michael Kamen/Eric Clapton duo that scored the films. Even the Gang at Paddy’s Pub recognized this in their own adaptation. Whether it was Murtaugh’s no-nonsense theme, Riggs’ “man, I want to kill myself” motif or the frequently interspersed wailing guitar overlaid with generous helpings of sax and brass—the original film had an iconic sound. Sure, blaring saxophones in our day and age outside of Midnight City might err on the side of parody, but if you’re going to call something Lethal Weapon, it needs to have a memorable sound.
The television counterpart does make an attempt at a “sad Riggs song,” but it’s nearly inaudible, and sounds like ambient meditation music at a yoga retreat in Taos, New Mexico. Then there’s that 15-second Monday Night Football-esque “theme song.” I know, we live in the era of short attention spans, diminishing audiences and the subsequent need to squeeze as many advertisements into 43 minutes as possible, but note to producers of action properties: FRENETIC DUB STEP DOES NOT CURE ALL.
What defined 1987’s Lethal Weapon was the chemistry between Glover and Gibson. Choice casting, luck, the abundance of uncut cocaine floating around in the ‘80s—whatever it was, these two actors were able to create a dynamic that audiences couldn’t get enough of. However, “The Magic” didn’t just come from their banter. It was rooted in the family-like relationship the two developed over the course of the films. And that came from Murtaugh being able to guide and mentor Riggs from being a self-destructive, cigarette-smoking alcoholic to the one thing he thought he’d never be again: Happy.
Damon Wayans, while he brings a distinctive skill set to Murtaugh, unfortunately just doesn’t seem to have that elder, sagely influence on this iteration of Riggs. There are well executed moments of emotional candor the two men share, but Wayans (despite being older than Glover was in the original film) looks like he’s the same age as Crawford—which makes their dynamic play more like The Last Boyscout, another Shane Black screenplay, than it does Lethal Weapon. The result is that is gives their relationship a lopsidedness. In the films, Danny Glover’s perpetual impending retirement, gruff baritone voice and “you just pissed off the principal” glare he’d throw at Gibson’s antics gave their partnership an ebb and flow of who was taking the lead. Wayans’ high pitch chastising just doesn’t have the same effect.
Random mustache aside, Clayne Crawford does a decent enough job of playing up the crazy antics of Riggs, but he never taps into the one thing that made Gibson’s portrayal of the character so iconic—his anger. The key moments in the film franchise revolve around Riggs losing his shit and going berserk. That slow build from Gibson’s cold, dead stare, which crescendos in a blind, smoldering, fury when he or someone he cares about is threatened, is one of the things that made Lethal Weapon so memorable. Take this scene description from Black’s original screenplay, where Riggs comes to the rescue of Murtaugh and his daughter, Rianne:
That description perfectly exemplifies what makes Riggs a “Lethal Weapon”: A primal force of depression and rage. Now, I recognize this is a primetime network TV show, so the violence has to be somewhat tame, but if you can’t show the bloodshed, at least show the fury that results from losing the woman you love most in the world and the frustration of being too afraid to kill yourself, despite your suicidal woes.
In Fox’s reboot, Riggs is some kind of plucky adrenaline junkie who occasionally displays some combat expertise, but he’s never a lethal adversary to the bad guys when he’s pushed. He’s just a competent cop who occasionally does some reckless things. This Riggs hasn’t gotten an opportunity to really rage out and indulge the primal fury that Gibson tapped into so effortlessly. (I mean, we know now why he was able to, but back then… what mystique!)
Again, the show isn’t unwatchable. It’s just, like, why even call it Lethal Weapon? The producers could have just as easily created these characters, cast these two guys, freed themselves from having to stick to any semblance of fidelity to the source material and done what everyone else has done since 1987: Pay homage to the original buddy cop film—but never perfectly duplicate it.
But who knows. Maybe, just maybe, we’re finally too old for this shit. (Cue sax)
Lethal Weapon airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Duval Culpepper is a writer and comedian (originally) from New York City that unironically maintains that Wild Wild West was leagues better than Django Unchained. Check out his standup at www.duvalculpepper.com and follow him on all the things @evertheoutsider.