What Does a Real Film Critic Think of the ‘Always Sunny’ Gang’s Fake ‘Lethal Weapon 5’?
Does anyone actually want another Lethal Weapon?
This summer will be the 25th anniversary of the most recent sequel, Lethal Weapon 4, which made a decent amount of money but got terrible reviews. Ever since then, there’s been on-and-off talk of doing another one, with several false starts and at least one declaration that Lethal Weapon 5 was “dead in the water” along the way. But late last year, Mel Gibson seemed confident that we’d get another chapter in the saga of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, which he’ll direct and will include Danny Glover as well. But between Gibson’s toxic reputation and Glover’s age — he’s a great actor, but he turns 77 in July — it’s hard to be that excited about a follow-up film in a franchise that ran out of gas decades ago.
Besides, there already is a Lethal Weapon 5. It’s the one that the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia made back in 2010. Sure, it’s not feature-length — the “extended” cut is only 14 minutes long — but it’s sorta, kinda like a Lethal Weapon movie. But is it actually any good?
I decided to ask a real film critic: me.
The Sunny version of Lethal Weapon 5 isn’t readily available. The movie appeared as part of the Season Six episode “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth,” which Hulu doesn’t feature as part of its Sunny package. The same goes for “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6,” which (as you might imagine) is the one where the gang makes Lethal Weapon 6. The reason both were pulled was because of insensitive comedic material — most notably, Rob McElhenney’s Mac and Kaitlin Olson’s Dee wearing blackface. (Discussing the decision for those episodes to be banished to the hinterlands, McElhenney said in 2021, “I find that my barometer is off for what’s appropriate sometimes in situations because, like, we’ve spent 15 years making a show about the worst people on the planet, and because it’s satire, we lean so heavily into this idea.”) However, you can still find Lethal Weapon 5 on DVD, complete with commentary with the actors as their Sunny characters, and on YouTube for the moment.
Even by the standards of real-life Lethal Weapon sequels, Lethal Weapon 5 has a fairly silly plot. Murtaugh (played by Glenn Howerton’s Dennis) is about to retire when he and Riggs (Mac) learn that someone has tainted the L.A. water supply — and that Murtaugh’s wife had died as a result. Vowing revenge, the cops interrogate a sex worker (Artemis Pebdani’s Artemis), which leads them to Chief Lazarus (Danny De Vito’s Frank), an evil Native American who wants to control the city’s clean-water supply. Shootouts and slow-motion chase sequences ensue. Oh, and at one point, Dennis and Mac switch roles.
As a big Sunny fan, I tend to love just about everything these horrible characters do on the show. But I think Lethal Weapon 5, despite some truly brilliant parts, is only okay. I’d still rather watch it than sit through whatever Mel Gibson makes, though.
The idea behind Lethal Weapon 5 is pretty great: Mac and Dennis want to make a sequel starring themselves, except they have no filmmaking talent (or acting talent) whatsoever. And so we have lots of awkward cuts and bad line-readings. (Charlie Day’s Charlie is especially woeful playing the police chief and a couple random bad guys.) The gang clearly had no money for this project, resulting in some of the most astoundingly bad effects ever. (That dummy of Charlie’s character flying out the window to its death is just too great.) There’s no way Lethal Weapon 5 could possibly be good — the real question is just how hilariously terrible it ends up being.
There’s a proud comedic tradition of fictional morons trying to make movies. Personal favorites are Bob and Doug McKenzie’s horrendous sci-fi film at the start of Strange Brew, the “Laser Cats” sketches on Saturday Night Live and the “Boats ‘N Hoes” music video in Step Brothers. All those happened before Lethal Weapon 5, which is just as inept as its predecessors, although sometimes it’s just competent enough that it’s jarring. (Who shot those establishing shots of L.A.? They’re kinda decent!) So the fact that Lethal Weapon 5 is awful is unsurprising — the disappointment is that it’s bad in a somewhat predictable way. (I do, however, want to give a shout-out to Dennis’ stunningly excruciating Australian accent when he plays Riggs. That’s world-class terribleness.)
Where the movie really separates itself from the pack of faux-films is in its utterly offensive content: True to the characters’ lack of good judgment, they deliver a Lethal Weapon 5 full of racial and cultural stereotypes, a problematic aspect of the film that the gang debate in the episode. (They can’t decide if blackface is better or worse than speaking in an exaggerated Black voice — they ultimately do both in Lethal Weapon 5.) The movie was intentionally super-cringe back in 2010, and it’s even more so now.
Anybody who adores Sunny understands that a certain amount of “offensiveness” has been baked in from the start, with McElhenney, Howerton and Day shrewdly skewering these characters’ close-minded worldview. Even more than Seinfeld, Sunny has dissected privilege and the patriarchy — often with brilliant lowbrow humor that never congratulated itself for its enlightened position. As McElhenney said in 2021, the show walks the line of what’s “acceptable” in order to make its comedic points. And just as brilliantly, Sunny gets you to like these deplorables anyway. The denizens of Paddy’s Pub are awful human beings, but they’re so unfiltered — practically innocent — in their wretchedness that it’s always funny to watch them wallow in their own filth.
With all that in mind, the gang’s Lethal Weapon 5 should be a hoot. And at times, it really is. (That gratuitous Frank sex scene, inexplicably referencing all-time terrible film The Room, is amazing nightmare fuel.) But what’s “offensive” about it isn’t all that cleverly done, nor is it in such bad taste that you’re jolted into laughter. Don’t get me wrong: All these years later, it’s still pretty extraordinary to see Mac done up in blackface as Murtaugh once he and Dennis switch roles. But after that initial shock, the joke doesn’t have anywhere to go: It’s in bad taste but not in such inspired bad taste that there’s some bigger point to it.
And there certainly could have been, especially considering that the real Lethal Weapon 4 was criticized for its demeaning attitudes toward Asians. The idea behind Lethal Weapon 5 is just “Man, these guys sure are tone-deaf,” but the best Sunny episodes usually skewer larger topics alongside dunking on the show’s clueless characters. Lethal Weapon 5 had the potential to be a really funny indictment of the crass humor and harmful stereotypes that blockbusters perpetuate and audiences lap up, but the movie’s targets are all pretty tame — and the same goes for Frank’s Chief Lazarus, which targets racism against Indigenous people in a fairly benign way.
The exploding of racist attitudes have often been at the center of Sunny’s genius, and as for making comedic gold out of the characters’ paltry creative aspirations, “The Nightman Cometh” might be the series’ highwater mark. I don’t want to be too harsh about Lethal Weapon 5, but if I was trying to turn a newbie onto this sitcom, it’s not where I’d start. Episodes like “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” and “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis” underline what bastards these people are while also being hysterical. Lethal Weapon 5 isn’t up to that level — and neither is Lethal Weapon 6, where Dee gets into the blackface act. That said, I prefer both movies to “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 7,” the limp 2021 episode in which the show acknowledges what was offensive about the earlier two movies — the gang’s local library pulled them from the shelves because of the blackface — and try to make a more “woke” sequel. The attempt to satirize modern sensitivity to problematic material ends up being both strained and weirdly reactionary.
If there is one everlasting value to Lethal Weapon 5, though, it’s that the gang’s leaden action sequences and witless banter nicely spoofs the stupidity of buddy-cop franchises that have outlived their usefulness. The slavish homages to action-movie tropes — sliding across the hood of a car while chasing a perp, firing your gun in the air to mourn a dead loved one while screaming — are so pathetically rendered that, really who needs to see Gibson and Glover try to recreate them in a movie with a decent budget? Sunny’s Lethal Weapon 5 is nothing great, but it’s the only Lethal Weapon 5 we need.
If nothing else, it’ll definitely be shorter than the real thing.