If "Lethal Weapon" was a farewell to the action film era before the advent of "Die Hard" type techno-thrillers, the best and the most polished laid-back buddy-buddy flick done in the style of 70s and 80s, "Lethal Weapon 2" is its zombie reincarnation, a deconstruction of everything that was good about the first film.
One could probably look at this film in its own right, and as such its a decent late 80s flick, more suited to the TV than to the big screen. But since it owes everything to the iconic predecessor, and it is a direct sequel, it has to be viewed as a cynical cash-in. As cynical as they come.
Just like the "2" in the uninspired title suggests: everything is just being rehashed. Everything, minus the grit and the poignancy of the "1". All the known tropes are there and not a single catchphrase from the first film is dropped and some new have been added. Jeffrey Boam, who was hired in "Lethal Weapon" to sprinkle Shane Black's script with a bit of welcome humor is called in here to fully take the reins and write the whole thing himself without the wit and insight of Black.
To maintain the merry character dynamics, the character of Riggs is still crazy, the character of Murtaugh is still fed up with everything, even though their plight was resolved in the previous film. They have also developed an uncomfortable comedic self-awareness about it ("We're bad! You're black, I'm mad"). The character of police psychologist has been reduced to a one-note joke. The villains are yet another para-militaristic bunch, this time so unconvincing in their manner of operating and existence one wonders how are they not taken down already before this film takes place. Also a lot of jokes stem from the fact that their origin is placed in the South African Republic. Apartheid and Hitler jokes, you know. Har. Har. The whole "police under siege" climax is unbelievable. No police force would just sit there like stool pigeons, waiting for the bad guys to off them one by one. Riggs and Murtaugh take the gang on by themselves just because they've done so in the first film. Hardly as exciting as it wanted to be.
The worst and the most notable thing, of course, is the inclusion of the psycho midget Joe Pesci in the cast. His insufferable turn as Leo Getz is probably the producers' idea of how to make the film more accessible to a broader audience. It's a mystery to me, though. Watching it now, I cannot believe how anybody ever found Pesci funny. He's effective in the roles of psychopaths because that's what he is in real life, but comedy? "Home Alone"? Really?
The rest of the cast is not much better either. Gibson is having too much fun with his character and Glover just acts like he has stomach problems. Joss Ackland and Derrick O'Connor are hamming it up to the max as the main villains, but one can hardly blame them. They know what they've got themselves into. Patsy Kensit has nailed the blonde bimbo stereotype even though that may not have been her intention. Richard Donner, the director, looks pretty out of shape even though you can't see him in any shots. His direction is pretty loose, concentrated more on the action set pieces than on the overall pace. The action scenes, as well as the toilet scene, are still good to watch but they cannot compensate for all the mistakes, including some amateur ones. There are some really awkward reaction shots of Gibson and there is a cringe-worthy on-the-nose revenge scene where Gibson shoots one of the henchmen accompanied by off-narration of the names of all the cops killed during the film.
"Loaded Weapon" came out four years later, and even though it's an excellent send up to this franchise, they need not have bothered. Much like "Die Hard 2" to "Die Hard", "Lethal Weapon 2" is a perfect parody of itself.