Shane Black

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992, Richard Donner)

Lethal Weapon 3 is an expert action movie. Director Donner, cinematographer Jan de Bont, editors Robert Brown and Battle Davis do phenomenal work. Even though the cop action thriller plot of the film is its least compelling–dirty ex-cop Stuart Wilson is funding real estate development through arms dealing–those sequences are still good. The actors carry over everything from their stronger subplots into those scenes.

Mel Gibson gets the showier subplot, romancing a likeminded–and similarly martial arts trained–fellow detective, played by Rene Russo. The ever-about-to-retire Danny Glover has something of a family drama, but also a crisis of character arc. Joe Pesci is around to make plot contrivances a little more palatable. He’s also great for the other actors. Everyone reacts well to Pesci, even if they don’t have a lot of dialogue.

Because Donner is excellent at directing the actors in this film. The sequence where Gibson realizes Russo’s a little bit of a goofball (after the audience is already in on the joke) is beautifully done. Gibson and Glover do get their moments–lots of male-bonding, lots of man tears–but Gibson’s scenes with Russo are basically a showcase for her. She brings such a strong personality to the character right off the bat, the subsequent character reveals are basically mini-delights for the audience. And Gibson and Glover. It’s a phenomenal part and Russo’s fantastic.

Between the two leads, Glover gets the better personal story arc. He gets the harder material–he also gets some great comic material–while Gibson basically just toggles between fun and crazy. Gibson’s really good at the toggling and there’s a maturity to his performance–just because the beast looks upon the face of beauty, it doesn’t mean he’s as one dead, not in Lethal Weapon 3.

The score–one assumes Michael Kamen did all the Michael Kamen sounding action music while Eric Clapton and David Sanborn handled the soul-searching, but who knows–is omnipresent and occasionally too much. It’s too slick against that beautiful de Bont photography and Lethal Weapon 3 starts to feel plastic. But then the actors do something, something in their performance, something in the script, and the integrity comes through. Sometimes the music even ends up helping with it.

Solid supporting turns from Steve Kahan, Damon Hines and Gregory Millar. Glover’s family otherwise doesn’t have enough to do–Darlene Love’s in maybe three scenes, gets one good one. Ebonie Smith has zip. Traci Wolfe has a couple decent moments, but again, not enough. Lethal Weapon 3 is a strange picture in it having too many good things going on while it still needs to be an action movie. Going longer wouldn’t have helped either, the pacing is perfect.

Stuart Wilson’s villain is a bit of a liability. Donner uses him sparingly, or always with a better performance in the same scene. Except maybe two with chief henchman Nick Chinlund–the villains in Lethal Weapon 3 are really lame, thank goodness the rest of the film makes up for it.

Also want to mention the great production design from James H. Spencer.

Lethal Weapon 3 is a great time at the movies. Donner finds just the right mix of comedy, action, drama and suspense.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Boam and characters created by Shane Black; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Robert Brown and Battle Davis; music by Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Joel Silver and Donner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Martin Riggs), Danny Glover (Roger Murtaugh), Rene Russo (Lorna Cole), Stuart Wilson (Jack Travis), Joe Pesci (Leo Getz), Darlene Love (Trish Murtaugh), Steve Kahan (Captain Murphy), Damon Hines (Nick Murtaugh), Traci Wolfe (Rianne Murtaugh), Ebonie Smith (Carrie Murtaugh), Gregory Millar (Tyrone), Delores Hall (Delores), Nick Chinlund (Hatchett), Jason Rainwater (Edwards) and Mary Ellen Trainor (Stephanie Woods).


Predator (1987, John McTiernan)

Predator has a lot going for it. Acting, directing, editing. But not usually all at once. The film opens with a quick introduction–Arnold Schwarzenegger and company are on a special mission in the jungle (after establishing an alien space ship in the first shot). It feels very macho and very forced, but the editing is so incredibly good, it doesn’t matter. Even when Mark Helfrich and John F. Link are cutting together Arnold and Carl Weathers’s male bonding moments, the film works great. It just moves.

Then, as the film brings in the rest of the supporting cast (Weathers or Shane Black give the worst performance and both of them are totally fine), director McTiernan establishes the film’s visual style. Predator doesn’t have much of an action style when the alien finally does show; McTiernan handles it matter-of-fact (cinematographer Donald McAlpine doesn’t appear to have the ability to do much else), so McTiernan instead stylizes the dialogue sequences with particular close-ups and, even more, how he shoots the actors in relation to each other and the jungle they’re in. Predator never looks flashy, but it’s always thoughtfully visualized.

There is one great sequence with Arnold and company running through the jungle before he goes mano-a-mano with the monster. That sequence has McAlpine’s best photography and McTiernan’s best action directing. It’s fast-paced, hectic, but comprehendible and rather sympathetic. The concept–these big muscle men terrified of the unknown monster–works. It makes a lot of Predator work. But only because of the actors.

In the supporting cast, Bill Duke and Richard Chaves are best. Duke’s got the most character arc while Chaves has near the least, but is just really good with it. Then there’s quiet, stoic Sonny Landham and he sells it too. McTiernan’s direction is really important for these performances. Jesse Ventura and Elpidia Carrillo are both good. And, like I said, Weathers and Black aren’t bad. They just aren’t doing anything special; however, given the silliness of Weathers’s character (super-buff CIA stooge), it’s impressive how much Weathers resists caricature.

Nice, memorable music from Alan Silvestri.

The movie falls apart a bit in the finale, which is a little rushed. But McTiernan and his editors turn it around satisfactorily. McAlpine’s photography, which is too flat–both for action and the locations–does contribute to the film’s success. Predator plays way too thoughtful. McTiernan takes it way too seriously. The story is never consequential enough, but McTiernan and the actors ably pretend otherwise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Mark Helfrich and John F. Link; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Dutch), Elpidia Carrillo (Anna), Carl Weathers (Dillon), Bill Duke (Mac), Richard Chaves (Poncho), Sonny Landham (Billy), Jesse Ventura (Blain), Shane Black (Hawkins), R.G. Armstrong (Gen. Phillips) and Kevin Peter Hall (The Predator).


Last Action Hero (1993, John McTiernan)

Though pre-Internet, one can still find all sorts of trivia about why Last Action Hero supposedly failed. Apparently the studio rushed the release, not allowing for editing or proper post-production. That rush might explain why some of the special effects appear far cheaper than one would expect (I’m thinking of the magic beams appearing drawn and the gunfire lacking definition). But those excuses don’t refer to the film’s real problem–the child star in the lead, Austin O’Brien, gives one of the worst mainstream child actor performances ever. Forget the Episode I kid… O’Brien makes you wish someone would run him over just so the movie could stop.

Otherwise, Last Action Hero still isn’t very good, but it’s far from terrible. Michael Kamen’s score is amusing, aping the composer’s other action movie scores. But the score does signal the film’s problem–it’s not really aping Joel Silver movies or most Schwarzenegger movies, it’s aping even lesser works. It’s a Joel Silver movie without Joel Silver. It clearly needed him.

McTiernan’s direction is subpar. He does well with the action sequences, making them exciting against the odds (they’re intentionally absurd and have no dramatic weight)… but when it comes to the emotional, he’s got that awful O’Brien performance and can’t defeat it. The magic stuff is just awful.

It’s too bad because Hero‘s probably Schwarzenegger’s best performance. And Charles Dance is amazing as the villain. His performances alone almost recommends it.

But I can’t. Not with O’Brien’s depthless awfulness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Shane Black and David Arnott, based on a story by Zak Penn and Adam Leff; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Richard A. Harris and John Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Eugenio Zanetti; produced by Stephen J. Roth and McTiernan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jack Slater), F. Murray Abraham (John Practice), Austin O’Brien (Danny Madigan), Art Carney (Frank), Charles Dance (Benedict), Frank McRae (Lieutenant Dekker), Tom Noonan (Ripper), Robert Prosky (Nick), Anthony Quinn (Tony Vivaldi), Mercedes Ruehl (Irene Madigan) and Ian McKellen (Death).


Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner)

One of the more impressive things about Lethal Weapon is Danny Glover convincingly playing a fifty year-old at, approximately, the age of forty. It’s never a problem in a film rife with problems.

First, Lethal Weapon‘s plot doesn’t really make any sense. There are huge jumps in logic as Glover and Mel Gibson’s “investigation” proceeds. The problem with making a high profile action movie, ostensibly for somewhat thinking adults, is the film’s never believable as a police procedural. Shouldn’t Glover have been taken off the case when it’s revealed the victim died because her father contacted him?

Worse is the change in Gibson’s character–for the first twenty-five or so minutes, he’s supposed to be a suicidal nutcase, then the film realizes it’s a lot more funny to have him and Glover bicker in as heterosexual life partners. And they do have some great scenes together, but it makes all the references to the previously essayed suicidal nutcase moments fail miserably… especially the nonsensical ending.

There’s also the big fight scene between Gary Busey and Gibson, which is ludicrous (it’s also never believable Gibson was ever going to kill a defenseless Busey so including it was just a way to tread some running time water).

The big loud music from Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton doesn’t work overall. At times it’s as bad as smooth jazz on a gum commercial.

Donner’s got some great, discrete moments as a director here; he’s unappreciated.

It’s fine–engaging and icon-making.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Shane Black; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Donner and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Sergeant Martin Riggs), Danny Glover (Sergeant Roger Murtaugh), Gary Busey (Mr. Joshua), Mitch Ryan (General Peter McAllister), Tom Atkins (Michael Hunsaker), Darlene Love (Trish Murtaugh), Traci Wolfe (Rianne Murtaugh), Jackie Swanson (Amanda Hunsaker), Damon Hines (Nick Murtaugh), Ebonie Smith (Carrie Murtaugh) and Lycia Naff (Dixie).


The Monster Squad (1987, Fred Dekker)

Fred Dekker can definitely compose a shot. For whatever its faults, The Monster Squad is one good looking film. Some of that credit belongs to the production designer and the cinematographer and the special effects people, but most of it belongs to Dekker. Dekker composes beautiful Panavision shots and he directs actors really well too–well, some of them, but more on that aspect later.

The Monster Squad is a mix between The Goonies and Ghostbusters and maybe even a little E.T. It’s developed a cult following for whatever reasons a film develops cult followings, but it’s a dramatic train wreck. There’s an infamous missing thirteen minutes (the film’s producers told Dekker to cut it to under ninety), but unless those thirteen minutes are all bridging scenes… The film takes place over three days and the leaps in logic are astounding (my favorite was the kids all being out at midnight with parents completely unaware) and it’s so smug, it’s not even well-meaning in its “message.” Still, there’s a lot of good stuff in Monster Squad.

First, there’s Stephen Macht. The guy’s fantastic–and not all of Monster Squad‘s script is bad. The family stuff is all excellent–it might be stereotypical cop too busy for his family, but it’s being performed by good actors–and some of the humorous stuff with the kids, the one-liners, are good. There’s a cute dog. It’s just so unbelievable… Anyway, besides Macht’s wonderful performance, there’s Duncan Regehr as Dracula. Regehr doesn’t actually have much to do, but he does a great job. The kids are… well, they’re all the kids who guest-starred on 1980s TV shows, pretty much. Only Robby Kiger is good in the scenes with the other kids and with the ludicrous elements, Andre Gower is good at the family stuff with Macht, but not the other stuff. Brent Chalem is terrible.

Even though its special effects are still excellent, The Monster Squad is incredibly dated by its dialogue. Watching it–as I near thirty (and I was vindicated by this widescreen copy, since it clearly shows something I’ve been saying for twenty years was in the film was simply pan and scanned out)–I can’t imagine ever showing it to one of my (prospective) children. The conversation about the rampant homophobic slurs coming out of the kids’ mouths weighed against the film’s content just isn’t worth it–and Monster Squad gets nasty, using terms I didn’t even understand until now. Just really mean-hearted stuff. It might be a fairly accurate representation of how boys talk, but it’s not a documentary about kids being stupid shitheads and its presence is somewhat odd (though, maybe not, given how fanatically Dekker defended it in a recent interview). There’s also a really weird aspect about the two main kids, Gower and Kiger, hugging all the time….

The film definitely suffers from a lack of wonderment or even a comprehension of it. When these kids, who are obsessed with monsters, discover this pretend passion is actual, there’s no moment of recognition. It’s an absurd fantasy and it doesn’t recognize that condition and it suffers greatly for it. However, I can’t believe, how good-looking a film it is in its original aspect ratio. Whatever its significant faults, Monster Squad is a beautifully produced film. It’s like the Olympia of kids movies. No, that one’s a little far, but Dekker’s interview really pissed me off (I mean, seriously, I don’t know if he’d mind the comparison of ideologies).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Dekker; written by Dekker and Shane Black; director of photography, Bradford May; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andre Gower (Sean), Robby Kiger (Patrick), Stephen Macht (Del), Duncan Regehr (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein), Brent Chalem (Horace), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Michael Faustino (Eugene), Mary Ellen Trainor (Emily), Carl Thibault (Wolfman), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Gill-Man), Michael MacKay (Mummy), Leonard Cimino (Scary German Guy), Jon Gries (Desperate Man), Stan Shaw (Detective Sapir) and Jason Hervey (E.J.).


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)

It’s nice to have Robert Downey Jr. back. Val Kilmer is hardly doing anything, so I always looked at Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a Kilmer film, but then, watching, I realized that I hadn’t seen Downey in anything since… Wonder Boys? Probably Wonder Boys. But he’s the lead in Kiss Kiss and it reminds you just how great he is an actor. Didn’t want to end with an “it” there.

Kilmer’s great too, but the show’s all Downey’s. Downey’s and Shane Black’s. Kiss Kiss isn’t perfect–it gets way too serious when it doesn’t have to–but it’s an impressively constructed film. It’s like if Adaptation had worked. Black “reinvents the buddy film again!” No, I’m just kidding–lots of people are bringing up that Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon. But there’s a difference between the two films… Kiss Kiss takes some responsibility for itself. It might actually take too much responsibility, but there’s actual weight to the characters’ violent acts. That’s something new.

Either some or a lot of notice has been given to Kilmer playing an openly gay character. This notice falls under my observation a few years ago: GLAAD has an award for best portrayal–in an amusement–of gay characters as… human beings. When I first read that, I checked the calendar and, yes, I was living in 2004, so I decided that the human species just needed to be firebombed. Or something. The character’s gayness probably started–for Black–as a way to comment on the genre and the character relationships, but Kilmer and Downey just made it part of the film. And their relationship is great. So good I used an “and” to start a sentence.

I guess I should pay some attention to the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. She’s really good in the film–playing Downey’s high school dream girl no less–one of the further ways Black plays with the medium–and she needs to be in other films I want to see.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably the best time I’ve had in the theater in a long time. I’m glad I went (instead of just waiting three months for the DVD).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Black, based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Jim Page; music by John Ottman; production designer, Aaron Osborne; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Faith Lane), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr. Frying Pan), Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw), Rockmond Dunbar (Mr. Fire), Shannyn Sossamon (Pink Hair Girl) and Angela Lindvall (Flicka).


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