Two cops come together to take down bad guys. A simple plot spun two different ways in a pair of 1980’s classic action adventures. But just how different are the films?
I am talking about a pair of Christmas classics: “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon.” Yes, get over it. The jury is out. The former film’s director agreed it was a Christmas film. Bruce agrees. Oprah concurs. On the Willis-led thriller’s 30th anniversary, the studio even dubbed it, “the greatest Christmas story ever told.” Drop the hammer, play the “Law and Order” theme, and let’s move on.
Think about it. A crazy Caucasian cop pairs with a noble older African American to save the day. Now, one would point out that in the John McTiernan film, Reginald VelJohnson doesn’t even get to see Willis’ face until the end of the film. But they work as a team to take down Hans Gruber (the wonderful late Alan Rickman) and his posse of thieves, so the same label that fits the Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, all blue eyes and youthful crazy) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover, still too old for this shit) adventure directed by Richard Donner.
Fun Fact: The Murtaugh family home is the same home used in the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie. Roger half-asses the tree and lights compared to Clark, but there are two separate times in the movie where the couple reach up and tighten a loose bulb, so cheers to them. That house is located on a Warner Brothers studio backlot, and used in multiple films.
Now back to the twin action flicks. Each involves an unhinged yet funny, built well but not like The Rock, ruggedly handsome young movie stars. John McClane is six kinds of brave and nuts, but Riggs is a whole other animal. But each has their good guy morals and white boy guilt, so it all goes down like gravy on top of a piece of turkey. One guy fights crime in an undershirt without socks (cool fact: Willis wore special made feet-looking shoes during those glass scenes), while other likes to pick fights with Special Forces operatives-turned-criminals in the aforementioned front lawn when Chevy Chase broke his finger punching Santa. You gotta love it.
Both films begin with a Christmas song, staging the majority of the plot around the big day or a holiday party, and each requires certain December displays for plot extensions. Willis tapes the gun to his back with wrapping paper, while the cops in “Lethal Weapon” leave a loving note for Gary Busey’s bad guy on the Christmas tree.
Outside of a film actually starring a character named Chris or Santa, like the recent gem starring a much older and crazier Gibson called “Fatman,” what exactly makes a Christmas film such? Ask yourself what the guidelines are while I keep moving, because I just stayed up all night watching the two titled movies.
Here’s the thing. Jimmy Stewart getting to turn his life around due to a wish on Christmas doesn’t tie it to the holiday lore much more than Rickman’s Hans saying, “Ho ho ho” as a threat to our hero. In the end, like the deciding factor in a film making you love or hate it, the experience is subjective. All the way to the end.
I see each film as a Christmas film due to the usage of music, the timing of the plot, and how many times we are reminded of the season during the running time. As far as my bald head can tell, both “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” check all the right boxes, with the former coming in with a higher score. Once again, the hero saves the day due to wrapping paper.
You also have to appreciate the unforced yet still timely twist of having a white cop and a black cop become friends while working as partners in crime. Cheers to that.
While it wasn’t apparent right away that these two films slept under the same tree, I am happy to notice the host of similarities these days. Such as the two actors who play a part in each film. I’m talking about Grand L. Bush, who plays Little Johnson in the Nakatomi Plaza saga and a cop in the Riggs-Murtaugh movie. Remember the gunman in McTiernan’s film that grabs a few candy bars? Yeah, Al Leong was also the guy torturing Gibson with the electric sponge. Warner Brothers produced the film, even billing 20th Century Fox for usage of the fictional Nakatomi. I could go on.
Can I do one more fun fact before I wrap this up? Legend has it that Rickman really wanted to do the falling stunt at the end of the film. So much that he agreed to the 30-40 foot drop right at the climax of McTiernan’s film. But the stunt team tricked him, telling him the drop was on 3-2-1-go, but actually letting him go at the 1 marker. Good stuff.
Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.
*Where can you find these two films? Well, if you downloaded HBO Max for “Wonder Woman 1984,” both “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” are available on the same app. Enjoy. Hint: Both the oldies are better individually than the new sequel.
**Credit IMDB Trivia for all the fun facts listed here. Look up any film, and get to know it better.