It’s Been 30 Years Since Samuel L. Jackson Was in a Dumb-Ass ‘Lethal Weapon’ Spoof

It’s Been 30 Years Since Samuel L. Jackson Was in a Dumb-Ass ‘Lethal Weapon’ Spoof

It’s science — a 2015 study by movie subscription service Lovefilm determined that Airplane! was the funniest movie of all time, with a record 2.4 laughs a minute. On Rotten Tomatoes, critics (97%) and audiences (89%) agreed — Airplane! was an all-time comedy great. But out of greatness usually comes mediocrity. Lesser filmmakers saw the formula — spoof a popular movie genre, throw in as many jokes as possible — and thought “foolproof recipe for success!” It’s that kind of misguided wishful thinking that led us to 1993’s wretched National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I

If you hadn’t guessed, Loaded Weapon I was a goof on the Lethal Weapon series of buddy-cop films, with Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson standing in for Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. And it wasn’t just ripping off Airplane. Two years earlier, Emilio’s brother Charlie Sheen starred in Hot Shots, a Top Gun parody that made a mint. One of Martin Sheen’s kids is as funny as the next, producers must have thought, so they kept the formula going. 

Laugh-hungry moviegoers meant Loaded Weapon I ruled the multiplex on its opening weekend. But terrible reviews sunk the film in just weeks — bad news gets around. Even the presence of box office gold Jon Lovitz couldn’t save what one critic called “a pointless joke that runs on ad nauseam.”

What went wrong? Let’s count the missteps. First, there’s the subject of the parody. Airplane! made fun of somber disaster films, specifically Zero Hour!, an overly melodramatic suspense film that took itself way too seriously. Take something serious and make fun of it? Funny! But National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I decided to make fun of Lethal Weapon — which was already poking fun at the buddy-cop genre in the first place. Didn’t the filmmakers know that? Roger Ebert was baffled: "The send-up doesn't feel much different than the real thing." (The real thing was funnier.)

Then there’s the desecration of the good name of the National Lampoon. Under its original leadership, the folks at the Lampoon had a decent record churning out movie comedy, primarily Animal House and the Vacation trilogy. National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I was the first comedy released under new management, and fans of the old regime were in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately, the brand’s films just got worse from there, with ever-changing ownership churning out direct-to-video junk like National Lampoon Presents Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo and National Lampoon’s The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell.

Finally, there’s the matter of the movie’s general terribleness. The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes sits at an execrable 18%. Even the presence of a young Samuel L. Jackson didn’t help a comedy that Entertainment Weekly said was “shooting blanks.” Lucky for him, his career was one year away from Pulp Fiction, meaning Jackson would never have to star in unfunny crap like this ever again. 

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