[This is a review of the Lethal Weapon series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
The role Lethal Weapon played in shaping certain then-young minds' conceptions of what an action movie should be is enough that many of those once-impressionable viewers would probably consider it a classic of the genre. Released in 1987, the Richard Donner film starring Mel Gibson as suicidal police detective Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as his "too old for this…" – well, you know – partner Roger Murtaugh, is also old enough there was absolutely no way someone wasn't going to come along and try to remake it one day. In fact, it's incredibly surprising that a remake hasn't happened already.
Most of the time these remakes tend to go the grim or super-serious route, using the original as a blueprint for spectacle only, and forgetting to incorporate the same sense of humor that helped make the first one feel so fun in the first place. Take for example the recent Point Break and RoboCop remakes. Both were ill-fated ideas from the get-go, and both were saddled with heavy, humorless tones. The latter's somberness even caught the eye of original RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven who said the lack of wit and moments of levity actually make these remakes more "silly or absurd" – which likely played a big part in both films being subsequently rejected by viewers and critics alike.
What's surprising, then, is the trouble with FOX's Lethal Weapon series has nothing to do with an overabundance of self-seriousness or a tone that's too grim. In fact, in its premiere episode, the show has so many moments of levity it begins to feel inspired more by the final two sequels than by the Shane Black-written original. Even then that's not so bad. For all the diminished returns of Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 they managed to triple and quadruple down on the Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic and the bonds of brotherhood that were such a strong part of the original film's conceit. All that is present in the new series. In fact, though forced in the way most ideas are in a series premiere, it's one of the strongest components of the hour. Instead, the problem is that, despite having an idea at its foundation, Lethal Weapon doesn't seem interested in doing much with it. In the beginning anyway, the series does little to distinguish itself from any of the other TV shows adapted from a hit movie and turned into a flavorless police procedural.
That means viewers prepared to give the show a shot will be treated to (presumably) many weeks of mostly safe-for-primetime action-movie antics, complete with a watered down and inconsistent subplot about a grieving widower who wants to die on account of his wife and child being killed in an auto accident. And while the thought of that will be rightfully daunting to many, those willing to stick it out at least stand a shot at being entertained by the two leads.
Clayne Crawford stars as Martin Riggs, and the former Rectify actor brings a completely different kind of manic energy than Gibson did – even during the latter sequels. In Rectify, Crawford's charm carried with it a hint of menace mixed with a good ol' boy attitude that here is used to fuel the character's inconsistent death wish, making Rigg's repeated suicidal standoffs with bad guys a little more fun to watch even though the outcome will always be the same. As an added bonus, Crawford has a really fun hairstyle that's a lot like Tilda Swinton's in A Bigger Splash, so that's a definite mark in the "plus" column. Ultimately, Crawford is exactly the kind of guy you want to watch in a role like this, only by the time the premiere ends, you're likely to find yourself wishing the role meant being on anything other than a TV remake of Lethal Weapon.
The same is true of Damon Wayans, who brings a more deliberate comedic presence to his rendition of Murtaugh than Glover did. The humor of Glover's Murtaugh stemmed from his not being in on the joke, from him being the straitlaced, tired old dad in the twilight of his career suddenly saddled with a lunatic partner who will either get him killed or be the spark that reignites his lust for life instead of catering to his fear of dying. Here Wayans plays it less straitlaced, less out of synch with the rest of his family and the department. Part of that is seen in his reaction to Riggs and part of it stems from his relationship with Mad Men's Kevin Rahm as Captain Avery Brooks. But the premiere wants to have it both ways. In one instance it goes to great lengths to cast Murtaugh as the butt of his colleagues' jokes, who make light of his recent heart surgery by nonchalantly stating how they thought he was dead, right after a scene that almost poignantly addresses Murtaugh's state of mind with a lingering close-up shot of his bypass scar.
The lack of focus that fails to pay off Murtaugh's introduction is the same condition that keeps Lethal Weapon from being anything more than a lightweight TV reboot of an aging action blockbuster. Directed by McG, the pilot has exactly the same lesser Michael Bay quality the rest of McG's films have. There's a lot of action and a pumped-up sense of consequence-free machismo that's further underlined by the sight of flashy supercars and a rock/rap soundtrack that keeps everything firmly in the mainstream, radiating the same effortless cool as a dad wearing tube socks with sandals.
In the end, unless you're a huge fan of police procedurals Lethal Weapon will have little to offer you outside its two leads. And even then, the combined efforts of Crawford and Wayans may not be enough to make this show worth checking in with beyond satisfying your curiosity as far as the premiere goes.
Lethal Weapon continues next Wednesday with 'Surf and Turf' @8pm on FOX.
Photos: Richard Foreman/FOX