March 23, 1987 12:00 PM

Thanks to a peculiar chemistry and a terrific script, Mel Gibson and Danny (The Color Purple) Glover lift this movie above mere TV-cop fodder. Gibson is usually cast as the strong, silent type, so it’s a nice surprise to see him play a loud, brash Los Angeles police detective. He’s suicidal because his wife of 11 years was just killed in a car accident. When he’s transferred from narcotics to homicide to give him a break, the effect is a little like taking a drive during rush hour to calm your nerves. His new partner, however, is older family man Glover, who’s very much interested in staying alive. Glover’s coolheaded-ness creates an engaging contrast with Gibson’s wild-eyed intensity. They have one thing in common: Both served in Vietnam. Now one of Glover’s war buddies, Tom (Escape From New York) Atkins, is mixed up in a huge, ruthless heroin operation. Atkins wants to give away the company secrets, and an enforcer makes sure he takes a rather drastic form of early retirement. Ringleaders Mitchell Ryan and Gary Busey (who seems underused) torture Glover and Gibson to find out how much the cops know, setting up the predictable revenge when Gibson finally Rambos his way free. Although Lethal Weapon applies to Mel Gibson’s martial arts abilities (and perhaps his state of mind), it could also apply to 24-year-old writer Shane Black’s pen. It’s wickedly witty. Asks Glover of Gibson: “Did you ever meet anybody you didn’t kill?” Things eventually get out of hand, especially for those who don’t like a lot of phallic gun-caressing and scantily clad, tied-up women. The movie eventually degenerates into one big shootout. But then subtlety obviously wasn’t what director Richard (Superman) Donner had in mind, and in this case there’s something to be said for all-out, guns-blazing action. (R)

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