It's been over ten years, and the ready-to-retire Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) still hasn't left the police force. Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) still has psychological issues over his dead wife. But the majority of their problems have already been solved in sequels past, and it is obvious the writers were in a crisis over what to have them do.
So, they turned to several staple television gimmicks. Lethal Weapon 4 is full of pointless subplots involving pregnancy, marriage, rumors and deception... The franchise has become a soap opera for the action set!
The film brings back its most popular characters (even though it doesn't know what to do with them). Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) returns as an annoyingly incompetent private eye. And Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) returns as Riggs' pregnant girlfriend (a sad turn from her meatier role in the third installment).
And if coping with existing characters weren't enough, they introduce a new young cop: Lee Butters (Chris Rock) who, though he gets to do a stand up routine or two, never quite fits in.
The plot, if you could call it one, involves illegal Chinese immigrants used for slave labor. The heavy this time around is Jet Li, in his American film debut, and easily the best thing about this fourth entree.
Jet Li's action sequences in the film are simply spellbinding (and really the only thing worth the price of admission). Sure, he doesn't have more than a paper thin character...but when the kicks start flying, you don't really care.
There are a few other worthy action sequences. (One highway chase scene is entertaining...but somehow familiar.) However, it is obvious this is a series in decline. None of those scenes compare with the similar action sequences in the first two films (though a case could be made against the third outing).
The characters are getting tired as well. The Riggs and Murtaugh banter just isn't quite as fresh as it was ten years ago. Even Leo Getz has become more shrill and irritating than humorous.
But for the martial arts, Lethal Weapon 4 would have been completely pathetic. Jet Li's moves may be fun to watch...but they can certainly wait for video.