Happy Birthday Lethal Weapon – Where Has 25 Years Gone?
On this night 25 years ago, a film came out that to some launched the beginning of a genre of film. The idea of mismatched crime fighting partners coming together, bringing action, some sex appeal, a twisted villain, a plot that you get hooked into, and in the end come out on top. After a $7,000,000 take at the box office the first weekend, Lethal Weapon became the standard bearer of the “Buddy-Cop Movies”, but it had some help before 1987.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper wrote today a story crediting Lethal Weapon as the film to launch this Buddy-Cop concept. In some ways that may be true, but we need to go back a few years earlier to 1982. The Buddy-Cop idea was established in a different manner by Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs. The idea was taking a detective trying to catch an escaped con, and having to enlist the help of another con who has had a dealing with the target in question.
Chemistry between the hard-nose Nolte and wise-cracking Murphy worked to near perfection, and to the tune of $80 Million at the box office (which 30 years ago was a huge take). 48 Hrs. was the precursor for Lethal Weapon.
The twist by ’87 was partnering a cop near retirement with a suicidal partner, doing battle against drug smugglers. The idea of “Mad Max” (a then somewhat sane Mel Gibson), partnering with Danny Glover coming off The Color Purple, and battling Gary Busey (fight scene with Gibson is one of the better ones in film) who was about 10 years removed from his Oscar nominated Buddy Holly role, seemed like a long shot at the time. 25 years later with 4 installments of the move franchise over $500 Million made ……… Murtaugh and Riggs are now classic characters and have been hard to top in their genre.
Many have tried to capture that special chemistry that Gibson and Glover had in some way, and more often that not others have failed. Take the attempt by Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans in Bulletproof – more 48 Hrs-esque lacking chemistry, and all points a bomb as the film only took $22 Million. Look at Cop Out – you have Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan playing two “Buddy Cops” in NYC, directed by Jersey’s own Kevin Smith. The formula was there for success, a big opening weekend at the box office at about $20 Million, but bad reviews and word that the chemistry seemed lacking killed this attempt a few weeks later (making only $30 Million more).
Good Chemistry between the two main characters is pivotal to the success in this genre of film. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence had that going in Bad Boys (1995), Eddie Murphy (as Axlel Foley) brought it with Judge Reinhold and John Ashton (Rosewood and Taggert) for 2 versions of Beverly Hills Cop (taking in about $400 Million), James Caan and Mandy Patinkin brought a twist in 1988 with Alien Nation (prejudiced S.F. Cop partnered with a “Newcomer” from another planet), and Simon Pegg spoofed the entire genre with Nick Frost in 2007 with Hot Fuzz (Frost’s character is obsessed with Buddy-Cop films — a must see!).
These films are all worth checking out again, and they are all very good in their own right, but the leader of this genre continues to be Lethal Weapon. Happy 25th Birthday to this film that stands up very well with time!