Blast from the past: Lethal Weapon rebooted for television

Lethal Weapon takes aim at the small screen with a franchise reboot starring Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford as the mismatched detective duo originally portrayed by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.
Damon Wayans, left and Clayne Crawford in Lethal Weapon. Richard Foreman / FOX / OSN
Damon Wayans, left and Clayne Crawford in Lethal Weapon. Richard Foreman / FOX / OSN

The three Rs of Hollywood nowadays appear to be “revisit” what made money in the past, “reimagine” it for a new audience, and “­reboot” it on television.

Recent examples of the trend include, to varying degrees of success (see our story on the right), Fargo, Minority Report and 12 Monkeys. The latest movie brand to get a small-screen makeover is perhaps one of the biggest – Lethal Weapon.

Like tinkering with the tail fin on a ’59 Cadillac, or trying to repaint the smile on the Mona Lisa, messing with the perfection of this four-film action franchise (well, the first three at any rate) brings to mind two additional Rs – “risky” and “ridiculous”.

After all, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover set the gold standard for buddy-cop movies when they starred as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh in the 1980s and ’90s.

Fans have every reason to feel dread – but expect to be pleasantly surprised, even thrilled, when this new action-packed “dramedy” with serious heart begins tomorrow on OSN First HD. Early reviews of the pilot episode have been positive – clearly, this is a show with a lot to live up to, but which also shows great promise.

Successfully steering the franchise back to the emotional purity of the original 1987 movie is none other than Shane Black, the creator and writer of the first two films of the series.

Damon Wayans (In Living Colour, The Last Boy Scout) stars as play-it-safe Roger Murtaugh, with the relatively unknown Clayne Crawford (Rectify) as reckless and suicidal Martin Riggs.

Some of the best comedy is driven by personal tragedy and desperation, and the new Lethal Weapon doesn’t shy away from this fact as the our odd-couple ­heroes are thrown together to combat crime in Los Angeles.

“I think it’s a more grounded, character-driven approach to an action-dramedy,” says Wayans. “I think what we bring that’s different than what other shows have tried to do is this heart – there’s a real relationship here. They’re real characters with real problems and conflicts that they’re trying to overcome – and it just connects the audience to it. And then there’s humour … and good-­looking guys.”

Following the death of his wife and their unborn child, ex-Navy SEAL Riggs moves to California in search of a new start at the LAPD, where he is paired up with Murtaugh, who recently suffered a near-fatal heart attack. The newcomer’s tendency to look before he leaps clashes with Murtaugh’s more steady, prudent approach to policework – but when they look past the surface friction, they see that their partnership might offer them both something they need.

The real delight is the feverish intensity and electricity that Crawford brings to Riggs – but it was no easy job casting his role, even after Wayans signed up.

“Damon was a great score,” says Matt Miller, executive producer. “He read with a lot of guys – it was hard to find Riggs. We searched Los Angeles, New York, Australia – all over the world.

“The thing was, every actor who came in, whether they knew it or not, was doing a Mel Gibson imitation and that was never going to work. Writing the character, part of that is also putting him in Texas so he’d have a drawl or lilt to his speech, something that would distinguish him from the way Mel played the role.

“We found him [Crawford] on an independent movie he made. The casting director said, ‘I think I found Riggs.’ We were like, ‘Great, where is he?’ ‘He’s on a farm in Alabama with his family and his horses.’ We put him on a plane, sat down and talked about it. From that moment on, we had our guy.”

Structurally, the series will feature new weekly cases for Riggs and Murtaugh, as it blends a police procedural with the evolution of their relationship and the character dramas of the partners.

We also see the death of Riggs’s wife, the horrific moment that sends him over the edge, though not quite in the same way as seen in the first film.

“I was playing more just the sadness,” says Crawford. “If I lost my children, I don’t know how I would get up and pay the bills. I don’t know how I would continue with life. So I approached it from that way – but having that urge and desire to catch bad guys.

“I tried to ground Riggs in an honest place. I felt like from an audience standpoint, what Mel Gibson did in ’87 with that role was incredible – but we want things more grounded today. I had to find the heart of the piece and not go so big with it.”

Lethal Weapon starts at 10pm tomorrow on OSN First HD

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM


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