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Police Academy (1984)

by on 2015/02/07

Police Academy (1984)“You will have live ammunition but there will be no call to use it.”

* * *

I suppose I always knew Police Academy was shot (and possibly set) in Toronto. The Bank of Montreal building is there in the opening scene of the movie. And although I was too young when I first saw it to know the city well, in retrospect even more landmarks are frequent and familiar.

It wasn’t until just recently, reading World Film Locations: Toronto, that I was reminded of the runaway success I’d neglected to consider.

Plus I couldn’t get Robert Folk’s theme song out of my head.

For children of the Eighties, whether in Canada or out, the Police Academy series will be familiar for its many, many wonderful sequels (or not), and maybe even its television spin-offs. Beginning as a raunchy comedy somewhat in the tradition of Mel Brooks or the ZAZ team (Airplane, Naked Gun), it spawned a series of mainstream “dumb fun” entries.

Of all of them, I only saw the first two “in the day” and have trouble disentangling those memories. Entire sequences seemed new to me, like a subplot with Latin lover George Martin, while other parts were immediately familiar, like Hooks screaming, “Don’t move dirtbag!”

For those unfamiliar with the basic premise, the mayor revises a law, thus allowing anyone to enlist at the local police academy. Anyone . . . no matter how corrupt or incompetent. Naturally, a virtual zoo of basic trainees appears, all of them troublemakers in a variety of different ways. Their sass and shenanigans butt them up against the just-as-incompetent old school authorities.

It’s pretty much a frat-house experience, unpretentious at best and puerile at worst.

The cast is sprawling but it’s fair to say most people will remember the snarky Steve Guttenberg, human beatbox Michael Winslow, Canadian “it girl” Kim Cattrall, and the late David Graf as gun-happy Tackleberry. Some characters really stand up, others not so much. I was especially amused by the charismatic doddering of George Gaynes’ Commandant Lassard.

The production overall is unremarkable, never distracting nor exemplary, but one thing bothered me throughout, the treatment of homosexuality. It’s sometimes possible to excuse a product of its time but this topic was taken farther than similar jokes about gender, skin colour, or weight. Characters who made fun of the latter subjects were unsympathetic or disproven but, in the case of orientation, everyone got away with their offences. It’s especially damning when sympathetic protagonists say things like “Sleeping is for fags” or demand that two (apparent) males stop kissing.

At several points in my viewing I thought, “This doesn’t hold up well,” and then my mind would wander to Meatballs or Porky’s. Compared to either, Police Academy holds up very well. Like children with a penchant for potty humour playing cops and robbers — to borrow from Douglas Adams — it’s mostly harmless.

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Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

96 minutes

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