Of all the soundtracks in La La Land Records’ “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection,” the one for “Lethal Weapon 4” is perhaps the biggest gift of all. Unlike the other three “Lethal Weapon” movies, this one did not get a commercial soundtrack release. If you wanted a copy of it, the best you could hope for was a bootleg with below average sound quality. But now we have the entire score on two compact discs, and every music cue that Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton and David Sanborn worked on is here for us to listen to in all its action-packed glory.
'Lethal Weapon 4' is much lighter than its predecessors
“Lethal Weapon 4” proved to be the “Star Trek IV” of the series as things take an even lighter approach than before with Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) discovering that he and Lorna Cole (Renee Russo) are about to have a baby, and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is shocked to hear that his oldest daughter is pregnant which means he is about to become a grandfather. At the same time, they have to work together to bring down Chinese warlord Benny “Uncle Benny” Chan (Kim Chan) and his vicious henchman Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) who run a human trafficking organization that sells poor people off as slaves. While there is more of an emphasis on comedy this time around, this sequel still has its dark side as well as a number of thrilling action set pieces.
Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn compose another great score
Now if Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn had decided to phone this film score in, that wouldn’t have bothered me because I have loved the music they have created for the “Lethal Weapon” series up to this last sequel in the series. But listening to the “Lethal Weapon 4” score in its entirety proves that they were not about to rest on their laurels. Many familiar themes are back, but they are given a slightly different slant for this movie, and a number of new themes are created for the Jet Li’s character and Detective Lee Butters (played by Chris Rock) who are introduced to the series this time out.
While I miss tracks like “We’re Leaving” and “Armoured Car Chase” on previous “Lethal Weapon” soundtracks, “Lethal Weapon 4” contains a number of excellent tracks like “Freighter,” “Chinatown Chase” and “Freeway Chase” to name a few. Kamen and company still know how to create a film score that balances out the comedic and action-packed moments with great effect. Listening to this score makes me miss Kamen, who passed away in 2003, all the more. In retrospect, I’m not sure Kamen got all the respect he deserved as a film composer while he was alive.
Jeff Bond, who wrote the booklet “Some Movies Don’t Invent Genres: They Just Perfect Them,” writes about how director Richard Donner and screenwriter Channing Gibson “effectively domesticated” the “Lethal Weapon” series with this fourth entry as generating laughs became the main focus. When it comes to this sequel’s music score, Bond goes into extensive detail about how Kamen used a battery of Chinese instruments to get the sound that he wanted. Kamen is also quoted by Bond as saying that he was using “Chinese textures” as opposed to “Chinese melodies.” In other words, he was not out to give us the same old Chinese sound we all think we have heard before.
There are also some additional tracks included on the second disc which include alternate takes on “Butters’ Intro” and “Chinatown Chase,” and it’s fun to hear how those tracks evolved from start to finish. The other additional track is “Wild Takes” which closes off this two CD set with thunderous bravado. Is there anything missing from this soundtrack? Well, perhaps the one thing that might keep this from being a complete soundtrack is the exclusion of songs like “Fire in the Hole” by Van Halen, “Pilgrim” by Eric Clapton and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War. The other three “Lethal Weapon” soundtracks included songs that were featured in the movies, but “Lethal Weapon 4” is the only one that doesn’t. Then again, the focus of these soundtracks is on the music that Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn composed.
Actually, the one piece of music that I would have loved to see included on any of the “Lethal Weapon” soundtracks is the trailer music composed by John Eric Alexander. Hearing that music always got my adrenaline pumping and made super excited to see the “Lethal Weapon” movies on the day they opened in theatres. My spirits lit up like a fuse when the opening of Alexander’s music started beating away. The fact that Alexander’s music is not here on these discs is truly the one thing that keeps this from being a complete soundtrack collection. I’m sure there are reasons for its exclusion, but I have no idea why that was the case.
Still, La La Land Records’ release of the “Lethal Weapon 4” soundtrack is much cause for celebration. It once again shows Kamen’s talents for blending themes of drama and comedy as well as Clapton’s and Sanborn’s brilliance at creating music that serves to define each character in this action film franchise. Even if there are a few things missing, La La Land Records has once again given fans of movie music a superb limited edition release that begs to be listened to sooner than later.
NOTE: The “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection” is dedicated to Kamen’s memory, and a portion of the proceeds are being donated to The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.