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Summer of ‘89: Lethal Weapon 2

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Lethal Weapon 2</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Lethal Weapon 2</em>

If there’s one constant in Mel Gibson’s film career, it’s vengeance. The actor has starred in at least half a dozen films as a “man on the edge” forced to transform into a ruthless killing machine to avenge the loss of an innocent loved one. This screen persona began with the Mad Max films and was further honed with Lethal Weapon 2, a film that curiously isn’t as readily placed in the Mel Gibson retribution-action category as some of the actor’s other work.

One of the reasons Richard Donner’s follow-up to the gritty buddy-cop film Lethal Weapon stands out from other revenge tales in Gibson’s career is that it possesses a decidedly comical tone, particularly more so than that of its predecessor. It boasts as many chases and explosions as any other film of its kind from the era, but what’s most impactful is the rapport between Gibson and co-star Danny Glover. Almost every scene in Lethal Weapon 2, from the opening car chase through L.A. to the toilet-bomb explosion, finds a rhythm by centering on officers Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover), specifically their verbal exchanges and expressions. A late twist turns the film into a vengeance parade for Riggs, but Donner doesn’t stop long enough for the film to become too dour. Rather, he uses these scenes to anchor the third-act conflict.

The story sees Riggs and Murtaugh take on a gang of South African drug dealers led by a consul-general (played with relish by Joss Ackland) with “diplomatic immunity,” who eventually declares war on the police. It’s fairly ordinary stuff, with some elements especially feeling like leftovers from Die Hard, which had come out only one year earlier. Most notably in both cases, the main villain is a sophisticated suit-wearing man with a foreign accent. Additionally, each villain has an intimidating sidekick that gets off on violence. Ackland and Derrick O’Connor may not look like Alan Rickman and Alexander Godunov, respectively, but they serve much the same capacity here.

Sinful Cinema 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

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Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag
Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

You can count Joe Pesci’s star vehicles on one hand, and people will tell you My Cousin Vinny is the only worthwhile title. Don’t believe it. Just when his post-Goodfellas bankability was starting to wane, and the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone franchises had lost their nineties-defining luster, Pesci landed the lead in 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, the most high-concept action-comedy this side of Snakes on a Plane. Written and directed by Tom Schulman, who won an Oscar for his snuggly script for Dead Poets Society, and otherwise penned a lot of family-friendly stuff like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, this is the work of a debut director itching to access his inner mafioso, but perhaps not quite knowing how. Where to start? Well, with a mob hit, of course—err, make that eight mob hits. Tommy (Pesci) is an old-school gangster hired by Benny (Joe Basile) and Rico (Anthony Mangano) to deliver the titular parcel to a boss named Big Sep (Howard George), who’d better get his heads within 24 hours or “more are gonna roll, capiche?” Tommy flies commercial air with his bag full of noggins, getting past security by slipping a handgun into an innocent woman’s pocket, then nudging his luggage across the floor amid the metal-detector diversion (ahh, 1997). He then takes a seat beside Charlie (Andy Corneau), your typical square who happens to have Tommy’s very same bag. Needless to say, when Tommy is forced to check his duffel due to its massive size (and the ironic fact that a medic needs to store live human organs in his overhead compartment), the wiseguy and the wimp eventually end up with each other’s goods, making things extra awkward for Charlie when he goes to meet girlfriend Laurie’s (Kristy Swanson) parents.