There’s no getting around it. The original Lethal Weapon is sacred territory. It might not be Shane Black’s strongest script or Richard Donner’s best movie, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the granddaddy of the buddy cop genre, the blueprint that most police procedurals follow. This new version airing on FOX isn’t the first remake; it’s been getting cannibalized for almost 30 years. Regardless, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans have attempted to fill Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s size 20 shoes. Do they succeed? Come on, you already know….
For those unfamiliar, Lethal Weapon centers on the newly-formed partnership between Martin Riggs (Crawford) and Roger Murtaugh (Wayans). The former is a recent widower hell-bent on killing himself, while the latter is a stable family man pushing 50. Murtaugh is forced to keep an eye on Riggs, much to his dismay. In a remarkably generic first case, they find themselves uncovering some nefarious secrets behind an apparent suicide. It all leads back to the cartel (shocker), and cliches ensue.
The charm of the original film comes from how volatile the partnership becomes. Gibson’s Riggs was a force of nature violent enough to scare a hurricane, and Glover’s sobering Murtaugh balanced him out perfectly. The set-up for our two leads here is largely the same, but these two actors are wet blankets. Crawford in particular is appallingly bland. Constantly battling with a fake Southern accent, he makes Riggs’ mania come off as dejected sarcasm. He’s more of an imitation Harrison Ford than Mel Gibson, which completely throws off the pathos of his character. Wayans fairs slightly better. His Murtaugh is nowhere near as gruff as Glover’s, but his goofiness somewhat fits the lighter tone of the show. However, he often descends into his typical mugging to sell a punchline. If only the writing delivered anything funny for these two to say or do.
Being trapped on the squeaky clean FOX, all of the edges of the original are smoothed ad nauseam. McG’s direction is utterly flat, giving the show a generic look that blends in with every other cop procedural ever made. The action completely lacks consequence, as we can’t have any blood ruining Lethal Weapon family night. Even one slightly creative car chase inside a Grand Prix ends up not impressing. Despite a few death-defying stunts, it never for a moment fools us into thinking that anybody is in danger. The emotional beats are exactly as trite. The death of Riggs’ wife at the start of the episode rings particularly cold, using over-played music and slow motion to attempt to cover up Crawford’s weak performance. There isn’t a single scene that you haven’t seen before, and my guess is that future episodes won’t be breaking the pattern.
All of that vitriol aside, it’s hard to wonder how much of this is the creator’s fault. If this show had landed on a risk-taker network like FX, this could have worked. The Riggs/Murtaugh dynamic would be fascinating to explore over a TV series with more freedom. However, it’s inevitably going to be milk tossed on FOX with generic cases and silly comedy. Occasionally, there are glimmers of that potential snuck in there. There’s a moment in which Riggs shuts down Murtaugh’s desire to join the military with a surprisingly dark comedic diatribe. It’s the one moment in which Crawford feels like Martin Riggs, and the show could have used a whole lot more exchanges like it.
Lethal Weapon is far from unwatchable. Taken on its own merits, it’s a decent procedural that will likely continue to be just that. However, it completely fails as a re-imagining of its source material. Wayans and Crawford are not the guys to bring this to life, and that miscasting will likely sink the show in the coming weeks. Don’t expect this to last a full season, as the most lethal folks of all are the FOX executives.
Sidebar: This pilot uses The Mighty Rio Grande by This Will Destroy You twice at key emotional moments. Don’t recognize the name? Take a listen.
Yep, it’s the same song that’s been in one thousand sports movies when the team wins and seven thousand death scenes. Please, TV show-runners, stop with this song. This and Breathe Me by Sia are parodies of themselves at this point.