Lethal Weapon ★★★★★

The quintessential buddy-cop movie and one of the best action pictures ever, Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon" is a sleek jolt of cinematic energy whose heavy and light tones blend into something uniformly excellent. Starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two diametrically opposed police detectives, Donner's film is an enthralling mix of humor, heart, and heroics. It is an action icon that earns a well-deserved a place in the pantheon of film's greatest works.

Starting with its Shane Black-scripted narrative, "Lethal Weapon" pops with personality and vigor. Following two detectives at different stages of their careers and lives, the Christmas-set spectacle finds the duo paired and taking on a dangerous drug ring.

The plot itself is strong, blending an inviting mystery with crime eradicating sensibilities, but the story as a whole is blasted to life by its characters. Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh is a slightly cantankerous, on-the-cusp-of-retirement old seed who just wants to make it to his pension. He is a family man whose police life threatens his own safety and that of his loved ones, but he carries on with that as his burden. He is measured, wise, and a little on the tired side.

Murtaugh's ill-matched partner, Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs, comes off almost as if he is Murtaugh's id. He is a high-voltage, high-strung cop whose pain and passions run deep. Where Murtaugh is controlled, Riggs is explosive; where Murtaugh tries desperately to hold everything together, Riggs is chaotic. Both are smart, skilled men who quickly form powerful, if, at first, caustic unit.

The film is driven as much by the Murtaugh/Riggs chemistry as is it the likable dynamic between Glover and Gibson. Herein lies the key to the film's most appealing quality; it is an ideal, invigorating match between script and production, and its leading men are pitch perfect. Glover and Gibson seem born to play Black's characters, granting the detectives the inner and outer lives necessitated by the writer. The two actors then elevate the characters by adding their own tics and mannerisms and their own clearly communicated emotional ballast.

Donner, then, takes Blacks's script and Glover and Gibson's skills and lets them all unfold against a sun-dappled and polished visual canvas. Composing shots that are confident, observant, and lively, Donner builds something big-scaled yet personal. He is able to capture the charms of his actors and transition seamlessly into violent and raucous action beats, building something that layers the two dynamics effortlessly. He is also able to blend performance, story, music, editing, and aesthetic into something where each element supports the other and weaves an ideal filmic tapestry of tonal balance and cinematic dynamite.

"Lethal Weapon" is more than a memorable, 1980s-bound blockbuster. It is a shock of action electricity that profits from personality and productions, landing as an exemplar of each. Full of character, full of life, and full of balanced fun, "Lethal Weapon" is a fantastic and enthralling action gem.