Not so much a Lethal Weapon, more of a liability!
The buddy cop movie was huge in the 80's. Some were played for gags like 48 Hours and Tango and Cash and some were more serious, like Lethal Weapon - though there was always humour. There is something magical about seeing a police procedural play out with two partners that are like chalk and cheese to each other. Collision Course was a movie that I, like many I assume, had no idea even existed. I knew Jay Leno voiced a few cartoon characters here and there but I had no idea that a talk show host was previously the star of an 80's action movie.
Collision Course starts with the murder of a Japanese man who is trying to sell stolen plans for an awesome new turbo engine to an American car manufacturer. He goes to meet with his contact but unfortunately gets hauled up by henchman Scully (Tim Noonan, an awesomely evil guy in Robocop 2, Last Action Hero, The House of the Devil) to boss Phillip Madras (Chris Sarandon; Terminal Justice, Fright Night). Detective Tony Costas (Jay Leno), an erratic, streetwise cop that drives a corvette and races people at traffic lights is on the case with his partner (of sorts) Ernie Hudson. Investigator Fujitsuka Natsuo (Pat Morita), a special agent from Japan, is sent undercover to bring the guy back to his home country so the matter can be handled discretely and without involving the Americans. When Morita discovers that the guy he is sent to retrieve is dead he begins snooping around his motel room for answers. That's where he runs into Leno who immediately assumes he is responsible for the murder and after some hilarious hijinks drags him into station for questioning. He finally reveals that he is actually a special agent and wants Leno's help. The two eventually form an uneasy partnership that grows into mutual admiration as the movie unfolds.
This movie was a riot. At first I thought it would be pretty silly - and believe me it really was silly - but by the end the action quota was high enough and the scenes so ridiculous that I had a total ball with it. Jay Leno and Pat Morita shouldn't work well together but they do. The obvious comparison to me is Red Heat; both cops, one a drunken American cop who plays by his own rules, the other a more reserved officer from an "exotic" country who has his own code to follow. They don't get along at first but after a visit to a bar and a few instances of preventing the other guy from getting shot, they become good friends. There's a bit of 48 Hours Nick Nolte in Jay Leno's character, but mostly I think Leno was paying close attention to James Belushi in Red Heat.
Let's talk about the action in Collision Course. It follows the buddy-cop formula of cause-and-effect; something bad happens at the beginning (murder) which results in a few early shoot-outs, a car case a little later, a more personal shoot-out even later and an explosive (and comedic) finale. The car chase was of good quality with a few bangs and crashes, the early shoot out is of pretty good calibre as well. Later on, Leno and Morita break into Noonan's house to find evidence. They don't realise that Noonan has tailed them and at the last minute Morita points out that he's loading a bazooka and pointing it at the house! Leno and Morita jump out the nearest window before the building explodes. That's not enough though and Noonan chases them on foot with a machine gun and grenades, Leno and Morita fighting back only with a single pistol with a handful of rounds.
Oh, and there's a bar fight but it's actually in a bowling alley for a change! And there's terrible synth-rock over every action sequence! All the right boxes are ticked in Collision Course.
The action gets even better during the ridiculous finale that sees Leno and Morita on a motorbike - you simply have to see how Leno looks with a motorcycle helmet on! - escaping from cars pursuing them. They veer off road and accidentally up a ramp that sees them land splat bang in the middle of the Detroit Formula 1 race! Brilliant!
There is plenty of comedy going on as well. Part way through the movie Leno takes Morita back to his house and they both get drunk on scotch. As they get more and more drunk Morita gets more and more hilarious and starts doing that great 'old man Japanese' talking they do in yakuza movies.. BONZAI! Eventually he falls face first into a box of three-day-old KFC (still called Kentucky Fried Chicken I might add, a real blast from the past). And of course, there's lots of one-liners and interplay between Morita and Leno that would later on form the crux of Leno's stand-up routines. Some great examples include:
Morita: Give me a day.
Leno: I'll give you a day; last Wednesday.
Morita: It's need to know basis only.
Leno: Need to know? I need to know why I don't put my foot up your arse.
Morita: Simple explanation. Position uncomfortable for both parties.
There is one issue here (well it may be an issue for some) - this flick is filled with that jokesy racism only the 80's would allow. When Morita is first brought in for questioning, an assisting agent asks his name, suggesting that it may be "Toyota? Kawasaki? Teriyaki?". When Morita is on the phone to his superiors and speaking in Japanese, Leno makes jokes about Godzilla attacking. They go into a bowling alley and someone yells "Who ordered the sushi?". Even Morita gets in on the jokes, suggesting that in his country failure should be handled with hara-kiri, like it was a practice that still went on, as well as accent-based jokes around the curling of the letter L into an R. Most of the time the jokes are no worse than the Russian jabs in Red Heat ("Parakeet? Is that Russian for jerking off?") but occasionally they can be cringe worthy. Even the trailer says the duo are "two men as different as hot dogs and sushi." They should have just called the movie "Fried Chicken and Fried Rice" and been done with it.
I won't give away how it plays out but the best scene in the movie by far involves a game of chicken between Morita and a car. I laughed so hard I rewound the scene and made my wife watch it. All in all I was happily surprised with Collision Course, especially the final twenty minutes which was just off the chain and ends with a thumbs-up split-screen. Sure, Ernie Hudson barely had a role and the main bad guy Phillip Madras spends most of the time just telling Scully what to do over a radio, but I can forgive that. I kinda wish Jay Leno did more movies like this back in the day; perhaps teamed up with Billy Blanks for a sequel. If you can tolerate the poor choice of humour at times then hunt this down if you can. It's totally worth it.
The fullscreen print on this Australian RCA Columbia tape is perfectly adequate and represents a movie of this vintage well. There is one scene when it slips into widescreen to show an on-screen title, but generally there isn't much information lost in the conversion to full-frame. Runtime 96 minutes.
Scored an ex-rental VHS for 50c. I think there might be an R1 or R2 DVD but good luck finding it - VHS is your best bet here.
Check out a few other choice scenes below: