Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs, suicidal LAPD detective
Los Angeles, Christmas 1987
Film: Lethal Weapon
Release Date: March 6, 1987
Director: Richard Donner
Costume Designer: Mary Malin
In a way, Lethal Weapon is too entertaining for its own good. It’s a bit corny, it’s a bit ’80s, and it’s a bit over-the-top, but it set the standard for the “buddy cop comedy” with its bizarre but efficient mix of neo-noir (a sax soundtrack in L.A.) and The Three Stooges. Over the years, it has been constantly compared to Die Hard, often unfavorably. While they both involve “loose cannon” left-handed cops in L.A. at Christmas, both armed with Beretta 92F pistols, the two films are radically different.
Lethal Weapon‘s main character (partnership be damned) is Martin Riggs, an LAPD narc who is very good at his job, mostly because he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. The film follows Riggs as he is partnered with the older and wiser Sgt. Roger Murtaugh. They both learn from each other and manage to solve the case by throwing smoke grenades in the desert, getting electroshocked, and beating the shit out of Gary Busey. Now if that doesn’t sound entertaining, what does?
* Before proceeding forward, realize that BAMF Style is endorsing the attire as a comfortable and utilitarian look, especially if you’re going for a “rugged urban cowboy cop” style. The attire is OK; the hair is not. A mullet like Mel’s is never a good idea.
What’d He Wear?
For the first half of the film, including his first day as Murtaugh’s partner, Riggs wears a gray casual jacket and jeans with a button-down shirt and undershirt.
The jacket is a gray cotton unstructured blazer that is a smart choice for an L.A. winter. While not warm enough to combat snow and heavy wind, an unstructured blazer like Riggs’ is a nice extra layer for a boost of warmth, style, and – good for a plainclothes cop – concealability. Riggs’ has plenty of seams throughout, over the shoulders, down the arms, and across the back.
Riggs’ jacket is single-breasted and the lapels have large notches, as well as an extended buttonhole on the left. There are two large black buttons located centrally in the front, but Riggs wears his coat open at all times, likely to make his draw easier. There is a slanted pocket on each hip, covered by a narrow flap. The plain cuffs have no buttons or zips, keeping the jacket lighter and less cumbersome when Riggs is forced into action.
The other staple of Riggs’ wardrobe is a pair of light blue denim jeans with straight legs that fit snugly over his boots.
Riggs wears his jeans with a brown leather Western belt that closes in the front with a smaller brass-tipped sub-strap that fastens through a brass buckle. This very distinctive belt is indeed known as a “ranger belt” and you have absolutely seen it in Westerns and cowboy movies. (Thanks to Omar for the ranger belt ID!)
Furthermore, Riggs is definitely a “cowboy cop”, so his choice of wearing boots is very characteristic. Both sets of boots seen are cowboy-style leather boots with raised heels. The first boots, worn with a striped shirt, are dark brown leather, and the second boots, worn with his red shirt, are a light brown leather. Although I couldn’t get a definite make, many have suggested Tony Lama as the manufacturer. A pair of these might do the trick if you’re looking for a close match.
Underneath his boots, Riggs wears a pair of thick white calf socks, which clearly have the yellow-tinted toes identifying them as GoldToe®, which are a very inexpensive brand of durable, reliable socks. This might be the first brand identification of a pair of socks on BAMF Style, so… yes, I need to get out more.
Riggs wears two different shirt combinations with his gray jacket and jeans.
The outer layer of the first shirt combination is white with gray stripes. Each stripe is, upon closer examination, one single dark blue-gray stripe flanked by a white stripe and a thin blue-gray stripe on each side.
The long-sleeved stripe shirt is a heavy cotton and has a front placket and an open patch pocket on each side of the chest. Riggs often wears this shirt with the button cuff sleeves rolled up, pairing it with a dark gray cotton short-sleeve T-shirt with a crew neck.
The next day, Riggs shows up at the office for his meeting with his new partner. Here, he wears a large-fitting red utility shirt, worn untucked and half-unbuttoned, with an off-white henley underneath. He would later sport this exact same look in Lethal Weapon 3, albeit with a different jacket.
The red shirt has seven brown horn buttons down a front placket, of which Riggs only fastens the bottom three. Like the other shirt, it has two open patch pockets – one on each side of the chest – and is made of heavy cotton. This time, Riggs wears his cuffs buttoned at the wrists.
Underneath, Riggs wears an off-white short-sleeve henley. This has three large buttons, with only the bottom button fastened. It is definitely short-sleeve, extending to just above the elbow, as we see when Riggs and Murtaugh climb out of a suspect’s swimming pool. He also wears it the next day with a khaki jacket and a blue shirt.
Riggs wears a few accessories for his various investigations, including a black wristwatch on his right wrist and a wedding band on his left ring finger. According to a very helpful commentor named Ryan, Riggs’ watch in the first three films is a black fiberglass-cased TAG Heuer Formula One 383.513/1. This PVD midsize quartz watch measures 35mm without the crown and 38mm from top to bottom. Mineral crystal protects the black dial, and the black plastic strap fastens with a silver-toned buckle. Ryan recalls the retail price of $195 in 1991.
Riggs’ wedding band, worn symbolically to honor his deceased wife, is gold with two ridges.
The most curious of Riggs’ additional accessories is a very dark blue baseball cap he wears when meeting Murtaugh for the first time. There is a patch on the front of the hat’s crown, which appears to have been blacked out, either by the character or by the filmmakers to hide a logo. It seems that the hat’s primary purpose is to make Riggs look like a dirty gunman for the ensuing confrontation with Murtaugh. Only wear this hat if you want to be mistaken for a dirty gunman in a police station.
Go Big or Go Home
Riggs doesn’t show off many traits to be desired in the first few scenes of the movie. While his courage is admirable, it is a false courage that is just a result of not caring at all about his health and safety. He bravely goes up against well-armed snipers and drug dealers but only because he is the one guy on the force who doesn’t care if he lives or dies. He even tries to help a suicidal businessman, but encourages him by actually jumping with him. The suicide scene is pretty similar to the “jumper” scene from Dirty Harry, where Harry uses unorthodox methods to save a potential man on a ledge. Although their methods are different, both Riggs and Harry manage to get the jumpers down while also managing to get the jumpers to hate them.
Riggs is also one of the last major movie characters to be shown as an unapologetic smoker, chain-smoking Winston Reds from a packet in his shirt pocket. Winstons, the most popular cigarette brand in the late 1960s, were also the cigarette-of-choice of Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame.
What to Imbibe
The first thing Riggs does after jumping out of bed is to grab a cold Coors Banquet from his fridge. This is not Coors Light, mind you. Coors Light is glorified water. Coors Banquet, on the other hand, is one of the great American “skid row” beers, right up there with Budweiser and Miller High Life. It is a good choice for Riggs because, like his Winstons, the popularity of Coors Banquet was declining as light beers and microbrews began dominating the landscape. Coors was very popular in the mid-1970s, especially after Smokey and the Bandit, as people enjoyed its lack of stabilizers and preservatives, with even Gerald Ford hiding it in his luggage after a trip to Colorado when he was vice president.
Coors Light was introduced in 1978, during the Coors boom of the mid-70s and a year after the Bandit and Snowman brought it from Texas to Georgia in 28 hours. Coors Light is now one of the most common beers to find in the U.S., which is a real bummer for guys like Riggs (and me) who don’t drink the light stuff. At 4.2% ABV, Coors Light is 0.8% lighter than the Banquet, but the lack of ABV also seems to indicate a lack in taste and quality. Luckily, a few neighborhood bars – and my girlfriend’s father – always keep some of the original Coors Banquet around.
How to Get the Look
Riggs, as a policeman prone to action rather than desk work, has to dress to be both comfortable and ready for action. You can get a few tips from his wardrobe if you’re a similar line of work, or if you just like to feel like you are.
- Gray unstructured single-breasted blazer with notch lapels, 2-button front, plain cuffs, slanted flapped hip pockets, and a ventless rear
- Button-down long-sleeve shirt, either:
- White with gray stripes, with a front placket, unbuttoned barrel cuffs, and two chest patch pockets
- Red utility shirt with a front placket, buttoned barrel cuffs, and two chest patch pockets
- Short-sleeve shirt, either:
- Gray crew neck t-shirt
- White henley
- Light blue denim straight leg jeans
- Brown leather Western ranger belt with a brass buckle and trim
- Cowboy boots with raised heels
- Riggs wears both dark brown and light brown boots, possibly made by Tony Lama
- White GoldToe® calf socks
- TAG Heuer Formula One 383.513/1 black fiberglass-cased wristwatch with mineral crystal, black dial, and black plastic strap
- Gold double-ridged wedding ring
- Dark blue baseball cap with a blackened patch
Now one of the most commonly seen handguns in films (and in real life), the Beretta 92F was very fresh to American audiences in 1987, unless they had seen John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow films. In Lethal Weapon, Riggs carries a Beretta 92F as his main sidearm, described by Murtaugh as:
Nine millimeter Beretta, takes fifteen in the mag, one up the pipe, wide ejection port, no feed jams.
Well done, Murtaugh, that’s exactly what it is. Riggs carries his Beretta with a full magazine of 9×19 mm Parabellum full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullets. He tells Murtaugh that he keeps a special hollow point round for his eventual suicide, but a close-up of the round (a Remington-Peters round, BTW) reveals that is also an FMJ.
Riggs is very proficient with his Beretta, shooting a smiley face onto a target while on the police range. His model has a gold finish on the Beretta logos on the grips, something not typically seen on most pistols of this model. Riggs eventually got an early issue; the LAPD didn’t formally issue the Beretta 92F to its officers until 1988. Issuance of this pistol to the LAPD was phased out in 2010 in favor of the polymer-framed Smith & Wesson M&P9.
As an “old timer”, Murtaugh carries a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 19, very emblematic of Murtaugh’s age and status as a detective. If this movie were filmed today, it’s very likely that the older cop would carry the “older” Beretta and the young nut would have a polymer-framed pistol or something else more befitting of the common trends.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the series… and make sure you get the Director’s Cut.
Let’s just cut the shit. Now, we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I’m suicidal, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Or they think I’m faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I’m fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I’m fucked.