Location Matters: the spot where they blew up the old city hall in ‘Lethal Weapon 3′
Location Matters is a series that reflects upon pieces of Orlando immortalized in popular film.
July 1991: Orlando’s current City Hall opens, a $36 million gem nestled at the corner of Orange Avenue and South Street, boasting a squat postmodern design that somehow screams the name of our fair metropolis. The only lingering problem? What to do with the old City Hall, which at the time rested literally just a few feet in front of the new structure. Why, blow it up, of course, in a controlled demolition, and offset those costs by selling the film rights.
Area film producer Ross Testagrossa made nearly a hundred phone calls on behalf of Orlando before he got ahold of Lethal Weapon 3 producer Joel Silver. Silver just happened to be in the market for a building to blow up for the latest installment of his buddy cop series; he whipped up a contract paying the City Beautiful $50k and penciled in an October 24 destruction of our abandoned government seat.
The Lethal Weapon 3 crew spent a week in Orlando, filming the City Hall destruction for what turned out to be the film’s opening stretch. As our heroes arrive on the scene of a bomb threat, the uptight Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is content to let experts handle it … but loose cannon Riggs (Mel Gibson) has other ideas. Convinced there’s no bomb, Riggs and his equally untamed mullet venture inside. Murtaugh nervously follows, and this pressure cooker situation eventually boils over into a ball of flames (but not before at least one Cher joke). The demolition experts made sure the bomb exploded “forward,” but looking frame by frame it’s somewhat unbelievable the new City Hall wasn’t even slightly damaged.
Eagle-eared movie watchers will notice what sounds like a bellowing animal during the explosion. No, that’s not the shark from Jaws: The Revenge, it’s actually the giant monkey from King Kong ’76. Yes, there is a secret Hollywood cabal dedicated to subliminally indoctrinating you with the works of Dino De Laurentiis.
Lethal Weapon 3, whose core plot finds Murtaugh and Riggs chasing a rogue arms dealer, proved to be the most successful entry in the Richard Donner-directed series. The wanton destruction of Orlando, steamy Rene Russo sex scenes, a soundtrack featuring Sting and Michael Kamen – what more could the average American in 1992 ask from a movie? Lethal Weapon 3 even made more money than Batman Returns, which gives one pause. Where would we be if Rene Russo had played Catwoman? Rumor has it Mel Gibson was considered for Batman before Michael Keaton secured the role. How would he have fit all that hair under the cowl?
It doesn’t matter, for as far as Mel’s fallen he’ll always have Lethal Weapon, which revved up a generation of movie-goers who savored their action with less elaborate costumes/character studies and more Curly Howard references. Not many people have a figure in their lives as dark and conflicted as the Penguin, but we all know someone as annoying as Joe Pesci. Nowhere is the searing mark of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh more evident than in the words of 26 year-old James Pierre, who spoke to The Orlando Sentinel following a screening of Lethal Weapon 3 in May of 1992.
“I don’t give a damn about Orlando City Hall,” Pierre said. “I want to see Lethal Weapon. I saw Lethal Weapon 1 and 2 and I’ll see Lethal Weapon 26 if they make one.”