When it Comes to Buddy Cop Sequels, Bigger Often is Better

Make it personal.

Written by Sam Comrie
Warner Bros.
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Before Mel Gibson’s grizzled Martin Riggs utters, “I’m not a cop tonight, Roger. It's personal,” Lethal Weapon 2’s measure of pure dudes rock goodness is already off the charts. Following up Richard Donner’s sleazy 1987 action-fest wasn’t an easy feat for anyone, but somehow Donner and his new franchise writer, Jeffrey Boam, pulled it off by risking it all. Because sometimes, in the case of sequels, bigger actually is better.

That’s the mantra Lethal Weapon 2 runs with throughout its breakneck 112 minutes, and it only takes five seconds for Donner to let you know what kind of ride you’re strapped in for. Whereas its predecessor laid down the score with overhead sweeps of highrises and bloody murder, this time Donner puts you in the backseat alongside Riggs and Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh, and there ain’t no seatbelt. It sets the tone for Donner’s rip-roaring selection of Beretta-wielding gunfights and rubber-burning chases throughout the sunkissed streets of Los Angeles.

But while Los Angeles is the playground, the scope is international. Gone are the threats of shady ex-CIA mercenaries; instead, Riggs and Murtaugh face off against suit-clad diplomats. On paper, it sounds like a far cry from the machismo of Gary Busey and Lethal Weapon 1’s Shadow Company. However, the invisible bulletproof vest of diplomatic immunity is an enemy our favorite cop duo can’t just shoot, punch, or drive through. Thankfully, that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Lethal Weapon 2, more so than any other entry in the franchise, shows off the heroic performances of the stunt team. It can be easy to dismiss the beauty of practical stunt work, especially when hyper-violent masterworks like The Raid 2 and John Wick Chapter 4 have recently established a new benchmark. But Lethal Weapon 2’s setpieces, laced as they are with squib-pack goodness, are still potent. When bad guys aren’t getting pierced by pulsating hails of gunfire, stunt veteran Gregory J. Barnett and his team throw themselves into some of the best sequences you’ll find in the now-dwindling buddy cop genre.

While the flame might be reignited with the upcoming Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F, Lethal Weapon 2 is the definitive buddy cop movie. Because, aside from its blistering firefights and relentless dash to the finish line, Lethal Weapon 2 goes bigger with its character beats, too. Donner shows he isn’t afraid to pull back from the smell of gunpowder to revel in the musty scents of a Los Angeles precinct or the wafts of a family-prepared meal in Murtaugh’s home.

That said, there’s still plenty of gunpowder.

Warner Bros.

That sense of camaraderie hasn’t really been replicated in the genre since. It may lack the darker infusions of Shane Black’s touch in Lethal Weapon 1, but Boam revs up the sequel’s heart with flashes of charming mundanity and affection. Moments of respite that focus Riggs’ relationship with Murtaugh’s family shine, but the brightest moment comes during a moment where we all feel vulnerable, and that’s the movie’s infamous bomb-strapped toilet. In any other movie, the scatological laughs would be played up to an annoying degree. Here, Boam and Donner ignore the low-hanging fruit to give Riggs and Murtaugh the chance to express how they really feel.

It's a beautiful reflection on the unspoken bond between best friends. The emotional stakes are larger when it comes to romantic ambitions too, as Boam’s script paints a picture of fleeting love against the LA waves. Long before Patsy Kensit became British soap opera royalty, she lit up the big screen as Rika van den Haas, the reason Lethal Weapon 2 becomes “personal.”

These days, Lethal Weapon’s legacy has been diluted into a woeful TV reboot. But it isn’t the first entry that deserves our laurels; it’s the sequel that did all the heavy lifting and made the franchise stand tall in the action movie Pantheon. Unlike Murtaugh, Lethal Weapon 2 wasn’t too old for the genre.

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