Ultimately though, I’ve decided to go with two of the quintessential maverick heroes from two of the most loved action movie series known to man. The first is a mentally unstable wise-ass whose apparent deathwish means he continually flings himself and his ageing partner in the face of danger. Step forward Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs. Second is a New York cop who seems to attract trouble wherever he goes, be it a Christmas party, an airport or downtown Harlem. Step forward NYPD’s finest, John McClane.
Rather than simply go for the originals here though, I’ve chose two of the best sequels from the bunch to make up a fine maverick cop double bill. Both Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988) proved seminal in the action movie genre and went on to spawn numerous sequels of varying quality, ranging from the good, to the average to the just plain Live Free or Die Hard. By all means opt for the originals if you’d prefer, but I imagine these have been watched far more than their successors and variety is, as they say, the spice of life.
First up is Martin Riggs finally finding love again in the form of an unconvincingly accented Patsy Kensit while he takes on some dodgy South African drug dealers hiding behind diplomatic immunity.
Lethal Weapon 2
The original Lethal Weapon was a high point for that most 80’s of movie themes, the buddy cop movie. Gibson’s wildcard Riggs was teamed up with Danny Glover’s ageing family man Roger Murtaugh and the two bickered their way through a heroin-smuggling scam led by retired general. Two years later when the sequel came out the formula wasn’t changed too radically but there were some noticeable tweaks which made it distinguishable from its predecessor.
The main difference is that by the stage of this movie, Riggs and Murtaugh have become close partners and Riggs is essentially a honorary member of Murtaugh’s family - heck Roger’s wife even does his laundry for him. Part of the charm of the first Lethal Weapon though was the snarky and exasperated exchanges between the two officers as they went on with their business. Now that they are bosom buddies, the arrival of Joe Pesci as the motor-mouthed Leo Getz fills that void as he proves helpful and irritating in equal measure. Our central duo are meant to be protecting him but they think nothing of dragging him into their ongoing investigations and placing him in great danger. That’s proper maverick policing right there.
The plot sees a group of South African diplomats smuggling Krugerrands into Los Angeles and laundering ill-gotten drug money as they hide behind their diplomatic immunity. To this day I cannot hear the phrase diplomatic immunity, or even just immunity on its own, without repeating said phrase in a think South African accent. Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) is a superb action movie bad guy, mean, unfeeling and packing a suitably evil sounding accent. When he stands on a ships balcony towards the films end and smugly barks down at a despairing Riggs “DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY!”It never fails to make me smile.
The South African baddies are a fairly horrible bunch and make several racial slurs throughout the movie. It’s worth remembering that at this stage, Apartheid still existed in South Africa and the country was still seen as something of a pariah in international political arena. On top of their racist tendencies however, these ruddy bloody bastards really up the evil ante as the story progresses and make the heinous mistake of really pissing Riggs off. They do this of course by killing off Emmerdale’s finest Patsy Kensit for crimes against accents (maybe).
Pats has been working for the South Africans but inevitably falls for Riggs’s rugged American charms. As the South Africans grow tired of Riggs’s infernal meddling they stage a particularly brutal helicopter attack on his beach front static caravan (for want of a better term). The two lovers are eventually captured and things look bleak for them both and thrown into the harbour to drown. Our hero manages to escape but his new found love is not so lucky. What a bunch of bastards. Needless to say though, this only spurs Riggs and he will then stop at nothing to bring them to justice.
Lethal Weapon 2 manages to retain the same energy and humour as the original and yet still manages to offer a new and interesting story. Incidentally, the screenwriter of the original Lethal Weapon, Shane Black, actually left this project early on as he wanted to kill off Martin Riggs and Warner Bros disagreed. Black’s fingerprints are still all over the finished article though and he and director Richard Donner really captured the perfect blend of action and comedy in a way that few films have managed since. Lethal Weapon’s 3 and 4 are both worth a watch, but they don’t come close to the brilliance of parts 1 and 2.
Our second maverick cop outing sees the one and only John McClane back on home turf in the Big Apple. He’s tired, hungover and estranged from his wife Holly and now, to make matters worse, the brother of an old friend is back in town to make his life miserable.
Die Hard With a Vengeance
Now, obviously, the 1988 original Die Hard is by far the superior film, defining the action genre, spawning a myriad of inferior imposters and more importantly bringing the brilliance of Alan Rickman to a wider audience. I have always had a soft spot for Vengeance though, I think largely due to me owning it on VHS when I was younger and watching it far too regularly (great parenting there from mum and dad). It may lack the impact of the original but the relentlessly high octane set pieces that come thick and fast, coupled with the brilliant double act between Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, makes this an incredibly fun movie to watch.
The plot features a McClane even grubbier and more world weary than ever before being handpicked by a mad bomber called Simon to play an elaborate game of Simon Says around the streets of New York. Simon is played by Jeremy Irons (Jeremys Iron, for fans of The Simpsons) who is on perfect form as the Machiavellian villain. At first it appears as if he is merely a nutter who wants to bring chaos to New York and to punish John for personal reasons. Initially he forces John to go into Harlem wearing a racially insensitive sandwich board where he is only saved a brutal beating thanks to a nearby shop owner Zeus (Jackson). Zeus becomes a reluctant companion as John is sent on a wild goose chase around the city taking in various crashes and explosions as they solve riddles set by Simon.
Eventually though it’s revealed that this game is merely a citywide distraction allowing Simon and his small army of goons to hold an elaborate bank heist. Simon fiendishly tricks the police into busying themselves looking for a bomb in a NYC school while he goes and robs the Federal Reserve. Genius. In a clever hark back to the original movie it’s also revealed that Simon is actually Simon Gruber, brother of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, thus explaining his dislike of John McClane.
There are undeniably plenty of clichés dotted throughout the movie, the Police Chief grudgingly handing McClane his badge back and the sweating bomb disposal expert staying behind to try and defuse the bomb to name but a few. Somehow though they only add to the film’s appeal for me, just as the increasingly elaborate set pieces do too. There’s subway crashes, exploding boats and a breakneck car chase through a crowded Central Park. It’s loud, frenetic and incredibly entertaining. This was the precursor to the likes of Crank as it sees a seemingly indestructible hero rampaging across a city overcoming all obstacles in his way as he hurtles from one perilous situation to another.
For an extra treat, I’m sure most of you have seen this before, but why not top the double bill off with a quick watch of this, quite possibly the greatest song ever recorded.
So there you have it, two iconic maverick cops putting their bodies on the line and doing whatever it takes to bring the bad guys to justice. Yippie-kai-yay motherfucker indeed.
Total runtime: 249 minutes.