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The Naked Gun (1988)

by on 2012/05/11

“I promise you, whatever scum did this, not a man on this force will rest for one minute until he’s behind bars. Now let’s grab a bite to eat.”

* * *

They’re ba-a-ack!

Well, okay, only one of them is ba-a-ck.

David Zucker returns to follow the parodical misadventures of the cop who anchored Police Squad! Produced by the Z.A.Z. team behind Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane, and Top Secret, their series was a cult success and a long-time, if short-running, favourite. Unfortunately, I found this version just about a third as funny.

Set in Los Angeles, and featuring the late, great Canadian Leslie Nielsen (Forbidden Planet) as Frank Drebin, the story balances several related threads. The Lieutenant must clear his partner in a frame-up. The actual criminal culprit — Wrath of Khan’s Ricardo Montalban . . . you can tell by his terrible perm — must be caught. The visiting Queen of England must be protected. And the beautiful Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley) must be wooed.

Clumsy, densely packed slapstick and lowbrow antics of all sorts ensue. (Say that ten times fast.)

For its a brief duration, The Naked Gun drags on. Audiences seeing it fresh may not be familiar with its source, and could be forgiven for finding it scattered, unfocused, and weak. Some of the TV show’s better jokes are repeated, but over and over and over and over again. Watch for the parking crashes and you’ll understand.

When repeated jokes aren’t overused, they’re effective and even nostalgic: returning to the bullpen, a trip to Ted Olsen’s (Ed Williams) science lab, and towering Al with something on his face. The best might be among the earliest, a revisiting of the credits, with a car-top perspective ride through a house, a locker room, and roller coaster. Sadly, Johnny the shoeshine informant is absent.

Rarely did I discover a new gag I enjoyed. Mostly I liked the cameos, including Joyce Brothers (also in an original episode), John Houseman (Scrooged), Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) and, coolest of all, “Weird Al” Yankovic (UHF). And by “coolest of all” I obviously mean “geekiest of all”.

Other new bits I didn’t take to nearly as well included a Randy Newman interlude, a near-total recasting of recurring characters, and a decidedly coarser tone. Were Peter Lupus (Mission: Impossible) and Alan North (Long Kiss Goodnight) really too busy to reprise Nor(d)berg and Ed Hocken?

Even assuming they were, I might be consoled with a few more laughs. As if to justify its status as a feature film, the cleverer humour developed within the constraints of broadcast censorship is here replaced by beaver puns, concrete dildos, farting, and pissing gimmicks . . . “adult” by way of an easy, knee-jerk puerility.

Whatever. I guess it’s all harmless in sum, though it squanders the potential of its forebear. Maybe a half-hour limit couldn’t help but ensure higher quality through distillation. Given eighty-four minutes to burn, there’s simply too much flab for its own good. While The Naked Gun isn’t bad as such, I’m certain it should have been better.

And I sure as hell didn’t see any naked guns.

* * *

Rated PG13

84 minutes

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