Richard Donner and Shane Black didn't invent the buddy cop genre with 1987's Lethal Weapon, but that film stood out for the way in which it completely perfected the formula. Although Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh have remained on ice for the better part of the last two decades, FOX's brand new small screen reboot manages to bring the legendary, lethal detectives back to action with fairly commendable results. Lethal Weapon doesn't come out of the gates sprinting, but it sets up a series that has the potential to honor the franchise's legacy by doing something new.
The overarching premise of Lethal Weapon will instantly feel familiar to fans, but the pilot does some heavy lifting when it comes to getting newcomers on board, as well. Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) is an ex-Navy SEAL turned cop with a thorough resume of deadly skills and a death wish following the tragic passing of his pregnant wife. Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) is a veteran LAPD detective with an ideal home life, a heart condition, and a desire to simply stay alive when he finds himself partnered with the seemingly insane Riggs. Although they initially butt heads, their hatred for one another eventually begins to subside as they realize that their respective skills make them an efficient (and lethal) team.
If you're a fan of the franchise who has any interest in watching Matt Miller and McG's take on Lethal Weapon, there's one major thing that you need to do before you check it out: disregard the films. This is not Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and that seems to be the point. Certain iconic moments are revisited for the sake of nostalgia, but Lethal Weapon's pilot works best when it finds its own voice, and not when it indulges our expectations -- which is often the case with small screen reboots of classic properties. It makes for a somewhat slow, uneven start, but it also promises some engrossing new adventures down the line once the table has been set.
In fact, some of the changes actually improve this universe, such as Jordana Brewster's police psychologist, Dr. Maureen Hill, and Kevin Rahm's Captain Avery. Both of these characters have much deeper connections to our leads than their film analogues -- Dr. Stephanie Woods (Mary Ellen Trainor) and Captain Murphy (Steven Kahan) -- and promise a much richer chorus for Riggs and Murtaugh within the LAPD. Murtaugh's wife, Trish (Keesha Sharp), now has far more to do as well, as the series has turned her into a Los Angeles District Attorney, thus promising more meaningful interplay with the leads outside of the Murtaugh household.
Of course, above all else, the humorously tense dynamic between Riggs and Murtaugh still carries Lethal Weapon, and their chemistry represents the best aspect of the update. A television series is paced very differently than a three-act film, and as such the series has far more room to explore the nuances of this relationship. Right up front it's clear that it will take far more than two hours to get these guys to love each other. The change in format fundamentally alters the iconic partnership, but it has also serves to effectively breath new life into their bromance as well. As a result, we get to see different shades of respect and contempt that the movies never had time to show us.
With that in mind, the changes specifically made to Martin Riggs definitely work. Clayne Crawford brings a sort of southern, good old boy charm to Riggs that feels entirely different from Mel Gibson, but still maintains the character's trademark wild card nature. It's a far more subdued performance than the one given by Gibson over the course of the four Lethal Weapon movies, but that seems to show that Crawford that he won't be able to compete if he simply imitates his legendary predecessor. Without delving too far into spoiler territory, Riggs' storyline in the new Lethal Weapon series actually puts a new spin on the character's suicidal tendencies, and it's a genuinely fascinating twist on a familiar narrative.
Then there's Murtaugh, who is still too old for this shit. Damon Wayans shows delightful chemistry with Clayne Crawford, and provides a very, very different Roger Murtaugh than Danny Glover. Given his reputation as a comedic actor, Wayans plays the character a little wackier than his predecessor, which can sometimes become a bit grating. However, Wayans actually shows surprising levels of depth in his few wholly dramatic scenes, and that's actually what has me sold on his version of Murtaugh. He doesn't have quite as strong of a grip on his character as Crawford does, but by the end of the pilot he seems well on his way to finding his voice.
On the other hand, for all the good that Lethal Weapon does with its characters, the action can sometimes feel like a mixed bag. The stunt work and choreography are well-executed, but an annoyingly oppressive rap soundtrack, and a tendency for slow motion bog these sequences down. That's admittedly one of the biggest issues that I could find with McG's Lethal Weapon pilot: his signature, hyper stylized take on action doesn't fit the strength of the writing or the performances. It's not enough to scuttle the whole pilot, but it's a major issue that future directors on the series will have to contend with. After all, action is a big part of the Lethal Weapon universe.
Purists may take issue with these new versions of Riggs and Murtaugh, but that's to be expected when adapting something this beloved. Is Lethal Weapon an exact recreation of the iconic silver screen series? No. Is it trying to be? Not at all. Lethal Weapon stumbles a bit at the starting blocks while attempting to get all of the essential pieces in place, but it's still an effective reboot that succeeds in putting a brand new spin on a well-worn franchise. Leave your expectations at the door, and have fun with it.