February 15, 1993 12:00 PM

Emilio Estevez, Samuel Jackson, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Ireland, Tim Curry, William Shatner, Whoopi Goldberg

Parodying the Lethal Weapon series of buddy-buddy action films ought to be as easy as shooting turkeys in a barrel, but this spoof hits its target only sporadically.

The random, incessant violence of the LW movies is cleverly evoked, with things exploding willy-nilly whenever Estevez and Jackson—aping Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched L.A. cops—come near them. I here is also a funny sequence where stagehands keep calling out sheets of plate glass for bad guys to fall through (this lampoons the Die Hard films more than the Lethal Weapons, but it makes its point about artificial violence).

The casting, though, is suspect. One reason Estevez’ brother Charlie Sheen was so good in sending up Tom Cruise in Hot Shots! was that Sheen and Cruise are similar not only in style and looks but in the weight of their onscreen presence. But Estevez would have a hard time matching up to everyone from Alan Alda to Billy Zane, let alone Mel Gibson. While he saunters briskly through a variation on the requisite Gibson-movie buttocks-baring scene, Estevez never approaches Gibson’s preening, post-macho self-confidence or Gibson’s ability to project decency and competence. Jackson makes a better ersatz Glover, suggesting the same kind of earnest slumming Glover does in applying his sturdy talents to his mindless LW character, Roger Murtaugh.

Lovitz, his hair bleached and cut short, nails the fingernail-on-the-blackboard abrasiveness of Joe Pesci, another LW regular. Shatner is fun, too, never once resorting to Star Trek shtick as a psychotic, Ian Fleming-style kingpin villain who rhapsodizes about the voracity of pet piranhas. And Ireland makes a playfully appealing Flemingish femme fatale. She and Estevez even run through a scar-matching sequence based on the one between Gibson and Rene Russo in LW3, and Ireland—in another satirical digression by director Gene Quintano and his cowriter, Don Holley—does a variation on the group interrogation of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, splaying her legs and smoking in ostensibly sexy fashion. (During the sequence, Quintano fades Ireland’s image into that of a stuffed rodent that’s identified in a subtitle as “Gratuitous Beaver Shot.”) Less effective is Curry as Shatner’s European gunsel, ineffectually ripping off Peter Sellers’ Clouseau French accent.

Among the array of personalities amusingly used in brief parts are Whoopi Goldberg (Jackson’s ex-partner), Dr. Joyce Brothers (a coroner), Erik Estrada (a cop), F. Murray Abraham (a Hannibal Lecter—like prisoner), Bruce Willis (giving his best performance ever as a guy just standing around) and Sheen (a valet).

Quintano doesn’t touch one of the most vulnerable LW traits, the phony brotherhood subplot of the black-white cop partnership. Still, there are enough serious laughs to suggest that Quintano may give the Abrahams-Zucker team (Naked Gun; Airplane) substantial competition in the mainstream parody business. (PG-13)

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