Lethal Weapon 2 – Script Review
Lethal Weapon 2 by Jeffrey Boam
Unknown Revision Script. April 1989 (with draft pages dating back to December 1988). 121 pages
The successful followup to the action comedy blockbuster that redefined the genre. Or, for those having trouble remembering all the sequels to movies from the 80s: Mel Gibson fights South Africans and an exploding toilet. See, that jogged your memory.
The script for this film used to be online, but was removed (likely at Warner Bros’ request). So everyone online links back to the same broken page. Not be deterred, I located a physical copy of the script from a friendly library. This had the added benefit of being remarkably close to what we see in the finished film. The scenes are numbered and the sequences underlined (“Opening Chase” for example), so I’m betting this was the shooting script (or revised after the fact to closely match the finished film).
I sought out this particular script because 1) it’s a fun movie, 2) it’s a different writer’s take on someone else’s characters (although two other writer’s are credited for the story) and 3) I’m also writing an action comedy. What works? What doesn’t? How do they balance the comedy and the action? Does every action sequence serve a narrative purpose? How do the characters evolve from the previous film in the series? How different is this film while keeping some of the stuff that made it so popular in the first outting? That’s the mindset I went in with.
Several of my questions were addressed when, for the opening sequence, we get a car chase. Not just one car chase, but two! Riggs and Murtaugh are in hot pursuit, joking about each other’s driving and the wackiness of the situation. We’re thrown into the mix because we already know these characters (and like them) and because it’s an exciting way to start. Even if you hadn’t seen the original, you’ll get a great feel for these two guys in the midst of a car chase, instead of some conversation in a precinct. You also know you’re in a comedic action film because, by page 4, the dispatch at the police station is betting on who “wins” the car chase. The tone is set early.
You’re driving on the sidewalk!
The sidewalk, Martin!
What’s your problem! You didn’t say a word when I drove through that shopping mall!
That’s because I had my eyes closed!
So did I.
There were also several shortcuts I hadn’t seen used before. One page 1:
A red BMW (driven by HANS, a bad guy)....
He has no lines until a much later scene, but he already has a name and a designation.
On page 11 they rattle off the names of 9 different cops in a row. Nothing about them is mentioned until they actually have to do something in the scene (which most of them don’t). Lesson: We need to know there are minor characters with names in the room, but we don’t care to know their appearance/attitude/hobbies/etc.
I recognized something early in the script that I hadn’t the several times I have seen the film (admittedly, I’ve never watched it critically). Murtaugh has a family, Riggs does not (his wife was killed before the first movie). Riggs takes on the role of the fun uncle. The family (including Riggs) watches Murtaugh’s daughter’s condom commercial on page 20. By page 24, Riggs is cooking dinner, talking to Trish (Murtaugh’s wife) about the night his wife died. I came to realize that this scene is the most important one of the entire film. Breaking it down:
- It contrasts the fun-loving uncle Riggs with his serious side.
- It reminds us that, beyond the facade, he is still at least partly that depressed loner from the first film.
- It’s good writing, as Riggs is casually cooking chili near the sink while relaying the story (something a bachelor would do). He’s not just sitting/standing there.
- Riggs doesn’t volunteer the story until Trish gives him a pen she found, which triggers the painful memories.
- It also reminds the audience that his wife died and, hey, wait a minute, we had no idea how that happened (foreshadowing by looking back!).
- It sets up a personal vendetta for later in the film. There’s a lot more to the story than just showing Riggs’ emotional state.
Related to #3, I love how matter of factly people do things in the script. Leo fetches his laundry while relaying why he’s in witness protection. It’s an excuse to get him out of the room (maybe other characters want to exchange a look or word) and it’s something people do. People get up to do things all the time. Seldomly will we just sit there, staring at a person while we prattle on.
There weren’t a lot of noticeably changes from this script to the finished film. The minor ones I noticed:
- Leo is more of a numbers dork here. He’s still comic relief, but he gets to flex his geekiness a little bit more.
- A lot of the dialogue is complete sentences. These guys should be interrupting and talking over one another.
- There’s some talk of a hostage and a cop killed INSIDE the police station. Those went away.
- Rudd (the big bad) seems like more of a sexual predator.
- Vorstedt (the villain’s right hand man) is much too quipy here. It diminishes how scary he should be.
It’s hard to go from making a dumb joke to being feared. Thankfully Vorstedt was changed in the final product, which is what makes things like what happens on page 30 all the more frightening. A bad guy makes a threat and then IMMEDIATELY does something about it. It doesn’t linger for pages and pages. It’s just BAM, he’s in your bedroom, tying you and your wife up and threatening your children. Sets a tone of real danger for these guys. Especially since we had been lulled into a false sense of security with the family scene just a few pages earlier.
Let’s get to the action. Page 52 has the phrase “the chase is on” which moves us into lots of back and forth. No descriptions longer than 4 lines.
ROARS up behind the speeding tow truck. Murtaugh can see what Riggs is up to.
CLOSE ON RIGGS
as he taps the barrel of his pistol against the cab’s rear window to get the hitman’s attention. The hitman glance over his shoulder. Riggs smiles, as if to say “Surprise, asshole!”
But instead of slowing down ... the hitman accelerates, and the truck surges forward. Riggs looks dismayed.
reaches down with his left hand -- pulls a small AUTO-MATIC PISTOL from an ankle holster -- and FIRES it over his right should THROUGH the cab’s REAR WINDOW!
pulls away as the WINDOW EXPLODES in his face. FOUR MORE SHOTS follow through the back of the cab’s wall. Riggs leaps onto the truck’s roof to escape the volley.
Which becomes this:
It’s effective, it’s quick, it’s exciting. I’m also learning to appreciate the use of CAPS, which I think is generally well done here. More on that in a bit.
Action comedies love to insert some absurd humor to defuse the tension just enough so you can laugh alongside your heroes (or in relief after there’s no need for the tension any longer). For example: Murtaugh is trapped on a bomb = serious. Murtaugh is actually sitting on the toilet = funny. Quite a few of their fellow cops have already been killed = serious. Murtaugh and Riggs have this exchange:
Dammit, Roger! This is serious! We need the bomb squad.
Okay.Call them. But don’t use an open frequency. Let’s try to keep this quiet.
EXT. MURTAUGH’S HOUSE – DAY
A real circus.
What each actor brings to the role seems to be a big factor in this script. There are several lines that were changed to be more appropriate for the actor playing the role than existed on the page originally. It’s hard to know if this was part of the rewrite process, a director’s choice, or an actor’s adlib. For example, on page 81, Riggs threatens some of the South African baddies and shoots a fish tank. In the script, his threats are serious and generic. He says “Boom. You’re dead!” before he shoots out the fish tank. In the film, he has his Three Stooges antics and does a silly “Inny Minny Miney…hey Moe!” bit before he fires the shots. Much more like Riggs.
Back to using CAPS. On page 95, the following words are all capitalized:
BAM. BAM. BAM.
MACHINE GUN FIRE
MACHINE GUN CHATTERING
And it all works. That example alone has converted me to being more open about using them for noises and action. I know I should anyway, but I can’t help but treat them like drop shadows in my graphics work; used sparingly at best.
Knowing the genre can also prepare you for certain events. Rika (the young attractive woman who works for the baddies, but isn’t one) and Riggs are happy, talking about second dates. We all know what that means, right? The underrated Last Action Hero got it right when they spoof a cop, dying in a tree (!), talking about how close he was to retirement (with Lethal Weapon-esque music playing).
Don’t be afraid of using the shift key. ALL CAPS is useful.
Don’t undermine your tension with unnecessary comedy (no matter how clever).
Set some things up early. That way they won’t feel like you pulled them from nowhere.
Action using found objects (ala the Bourne series) is exciting and realistic.
The villain doesn’t always make the film (Rudd is actually quite dull).
Using an action sequence to help introduce a character (Leo) is a great tactic.
Characters should do things while they converse.
Most Baffling Lines:
Rudd sits down behind his desk. In a moment, he will notice that a page is missing from his pad. And that moment is now.
Dad! Wait! What’s in the sandwich?!
Huh? Oh...tuna fish.
No, Dad. No!
Don’t eat Flipper, Daddy! Daddy’s eating Flipper!
What the --??
We’re boycotting tuna, sweetheart, because they kill the dolphins that get caught in the nets.
Have a ham sandwich, Dad.
That’s right, Rog... eat Miss Piggy instead.