The first sequel in this series became a blockbuster by adding ample comedy to the original’s core of vengeance and violence, and the recipe again works here, producing a movie that’s really more about moments–either comic or thrilling–than any sort of cohesive whole. Even with some flat stretches in the middle, the third “Weapon” has plenty of ammunition and figures to blast its way into this summer’s elite $ 100 million club. With Joe Pesci back as the hyperkinetic Leo Getz, the Abbott & Costello-type comedy may be played even broader than in “Weapon 2,” and the addition of Rene Russo as a tough female internal affairs cop allows women to join the butt-kicking boys club.
The plot, meanwhile, hinges on a wispy premise about an ex-cop (Stuart Wilson) stealing confiscated guns and providing them to gangs, and while the bad guys aren’t as menacing as in earlier installments they make serviceable straw men to be loudly knocked down.
Producer-director Richard Donner has the mayhem down to a science by now, and it helps having actors the caliber of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover to bring a little weight to what otherwise would be a typical Joel Silver tribute to destroying property and the wonders of Dolby stereo.
This time, the emotional focus is on Glover’s Roger Murtaugh, who counts down the days to his retirement even as he grapples with whether hanging up his gun will make him an old man.
At the same time Murtaugh and gonzo partner Martin Riggs (Gibson) stumble onto the gun racket, bringing them into contact with high-kicking investigator Lorna Cole (Russo) — a woman who wins Riggs’ heart by demonstrating that she can inflict as much damage as he can.
For the most part, however, “Lethal Weapon 3” is all about chases and comedy schtick, and in this case the sum of the parts really adds up to more than the whole.
As a result, the film’s entertainment factor comes down to the individual scenes, and writer Jeffrey Boam (who wrote “Weapon 2” and shares credit here with Robert Mark Kamen) borrows from the best — from a terrific wrong-way freeway chase reminiscent of “To Live and Die in L.A.” to a comparison of scars straight out of “Jaws,” although in this case it functions as foreplay for Riggs and the tomboy-ish Cole.
Pesci also shows off his unique ability to go absolutely ballistic in rat-a-tat fashion, and Gibson’s comic high points include dropping on all fours to win over a ferocious-looking guard dog.
Not all of the moments work as well, including an early chase involving armored cars and an action sequence set around an L.A. Kings game. (What’s so exciting, after all, about a fight breaking out at a hockey game?)
There are also coincidences too numerous to mention, and Riggs’ own brand of police brutality, which includes punching out a handcuffed suspect, will doubtless cause some squirming among those for whom the Los Angeles riots are still a vivid memory.
Still, “Lethal Weapon 3” manages to be highly entertaining and sanctions all its violence by making the bad guys so despicable that death seems to be the only solution. The broad scope of the action also brings a requisite make-believe quality to the narrative, even if some of the transitions from kooky comedy to more dire situations prove a bit jarring.
Jarring is also the word for the film’s tour-de-force technical credits, which feature top-flight stunts, spectacular explosions and sound effects played at a decibel level that occasionally threatens the dialogue.
The eclectic trio of Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn also turns in an admirable score, and Sting’s song during the opening credits should help the marketing guys woo the MTV crowd.
Gibson and Glover appear to have the luxury of using the “Lethal Weapon” series to finance more prestigious projects, from Gibson’s “Hamlet” to Glover’s “To Sleep with Anger.” With that in mind, it’s doubtful Murtaugh will be able to embrace retirement anytime soon.