This movie has some strong points. Jet Li is a phenomenal athlete and fairly menacing screen villain. Several of the action/fight scenes are well choreographed. Chris Rock has a couple of good scenes, especially the cell phone discussion with Joe Pesci. But the movie suffers from such deep flaws that one has not only the disappointment of a poor film, but of a director and actors who know that star power and their franchise will carry them along and who just don't care anymore.
Just some of the problems I noticed, in no particular order:
(1) One of the major events in the movie is the promotion of Riggs and Murtaugh to the rank of captain. There are two major problems with this plot point. First, though it hardly matters in this avalanche of the improbable, their promotion isn't just implausible, it's ridiculously improbable. They are supposed to have done so much damage that the city's insurance carrier will no longer insure the police. So they are promoted off the street. But since there are no open spots for Lieutenants, they are promoted one rank higher. Excuse me? They do so much damage that the city loses its insurance coverage and they can't even be taken off street duty? Are *all* cops "on the streets"? But that could be overlooked if it were not for the second problem: The promotion does, apparently, nothing. The only effect of their promotion that we see is that they are called "captain" and "sir." They keep their same desks, their same duties, their same partnership. (Do Captains even have partners?) So why, since it doesn't do anything, do we even have the promotion subplot in the movie?
(2) I know I'm going to sound like a prig for mentioning this, but I was really repelled by the level of casual brutality and harassment Riggs and Murtaugh show. They don't even have to wait for proof or even reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, they simply destroy property, ruin a business, beat people up, shoot them, etc. These are clearly rogue cops, and it may be a sign of the formula of the movie failing that we notice it. It is not as though any action-movie heroes are textbook cops, but this movie is unforgivable in forcing you to notice it. Perhaps more disturbing is that Riggs and Murtaugh are joined in this adventure by Lee Butters (a younger cop played by Chris Rock) who is just as casual in his brutality as the older cops. He also casually cocks and brandishes his gun at Leo Getz (played by Joe Pesci), apparently just so you can tell that being a bad cop isn't restricted to the older, jaded officers.
(3) Big secrets are kept in ways that suggest that the characters haven't seen each other since the last film. Riggs and Murtaugh are the closest of partners, the earlier movies make it clear that they think of each other as family. But Murtaugh never mentions that Trish (his wife) is a successful writer? Maybe he is embarrassed about what she writes, but would he never have mentioned in the early days that she had written something that she was sending off to a publisher, that it had been published, *nothing*? But perhaps given the example he sets, he should not be surprised to find that his daughter has never revealed that she has been dating a man, has fallen in love, has married him, and is carrying his baby. She has also never mentioned his name or occupation. And this after making much in the last three films about Murtaugh as the devoted family man. That's a betrayal of the characters and it's revolting.
Now more briefly:
(4) Women escape hostage-takers but don't run to alert neighbors or call the police, but remain in area to be recaptured.
(5) Renee Russo's character (Lorna Cole) devolves from the third movie's smart cop to a broad farce of sappy, stupid, pregnant woman stereotype with some martial arts thrown in.
(6) They seem to have entirely forgotten here the first movie's point that Riggs is an outstanding martial artist. He doesn't get beaten up because he is getting old. He gets beaten up because the writers have, again, betrayed the character.
(7) The Chinese villains are supposed to be dastardly killers, using their cars to push their victims in their cars (conveniently stopped at railroad crossings) into the path of (conveniently) oncoming trains. But it is a quite silly form of execution, not because it relies on the unlikely coincidence mentioned, but because all it takes to thwart this method is to hit the gas. The path ahead is clear; when you're getting pushed just go with it and the train will pass behind you.
(8) Murtaugh's very quick to suppose, given basically no evidence, that Butters is gay and attracted to him. Nice sleuthing.
(9) Simplistic, smug, moralizing on guns and slavery. We're clearly supposed to feel uplifted by Murtaugh's opposition to slavery. Good for you, Rog. Are you against murder and cruelty, too? If Richard Donner is a filmmaker who botches a film this badly, why would I trust him for moral guidance?
Of course, there is the usual run-of-the-mill action film weirdness: windows are made of a supremely fragile material which looks like glass but which is effortlessly broken by the protagonist's fist, and cars on the LA freeway that do not swerve or slow down when following a man on a inverted table being dragged by a sheet of plastic from a prefab house. But these aren't really faults of the movie so much as a stupid turn the genre has taken. It is a rare action film these days that doesn't fall into these traps.
All in all, Lethal Weapon 4 is a movie worth watching only if you don't care about film or about yourself.