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The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (DVD)
Advantages: Very funny, varied humour, superb deadpan delivery
Disadvantages: Not all the gags work and there's some recycling of material from the TV show
Naked Gun is a rather belated spin-off of the early 80s TV series Police Squad. The original series ran for just six episodes, because American audiences didn't get its ironic tone and it took a further seven years before it was resurrected for the big screen. During that time, however, the series had become a cult favourite, meaning the film already had a built in audience, eager for more antics from incompetent Detective Frank Drebin. This time around, Frank is charged with heading up the security detail for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. Unfortunately, it seems someone is out to assassinate the monarch...
Anyone who has ever seen either Police Squad! or Airplane! will know exactly what to expect: a stupid, over-the-top comedy that makes very little sense in terms of plot, but which will have you laughing so much that you will scarcely notice. Every scene is put together with the explicit intention of making the viewer laugh as many times as possible. There's one basic rule: if it might get a laugh, it goes in.
Effectively, this means that the humour is very broad-ranging and likely to appeal to everyone. Whilst it's not quite as scatter-gun in its approach to jokes as Airplane! was (there are fewer jokes playing out in the background of scenes), there's still plenty to keep you amused. As with all comedies, not everything works, but the humour comes so thick and fast that you scarcely notice the odd misfire. The variety of humour also means that there is something in the film that will appeal to most people.
Naked Gun relies a lot more on wordplay gags and slapstick style humour than its predecessor. This makes for some very funny moments and some inspired pieces of daft humour. There are certainly plenty of things that will make you laugh out loud and many others that will have you sniggering quietly. True, you don't quite get that same outrageous inventiveness that made Airplane! such a breath of fresh air, but it will still make you laugh more than most so-called comedies
The humour is, of course, still completely stupid and over-the-top, with the plot being mere background noise. This is not a complaint, since this is the whole point of the film. The humour might be a little more thinly spread than it was in the TV series (inevitable since it has 85, rather than 25 minutes to fill), but it still does a good job of capturing the absurd sense of fun of its predecessor. On the whole, it also does an excellent job of spreading the humour throughout the running time, with many of the film's funniest moments (the baseball game, for example) coming towards the end.
It's a shame that some of the jokes are recycled from the TV series because fans of the TV series will already be familiar with them, so they fall a bit flat. It's suggestive of slightly lazy writing that the producers chose to plagiarise themselves, rather than try and come up with new material.
Of course, much of the humour is very deliberately stupid or nonsensical, so if this style of slapstick, "thrown together" humour doesn't appeal to you, you're going to hate Naked Gun. I suspect that it's a bit of Marmite film - one that you will either love or hate.
Much of the humour is delivered through the characters, particularly through the deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielson Frank Drebin. The lines he utters are so completely absurd and his serious, straight delivery of them makes even fairly ordinary jokes a lot funnier when it comes from his mouth. One thing that has changed (and not for the better) is that Nielson occasionally strays from this successful formula and mugs to camera, letting the audience know that he is in on the joke, rather than just delivering his lines in all apparent seriousness. Even here, though, his sense of comic timing is so strong that you can easily overlook this.
Prescilla Presley also shows a surprisingly deft comedic touch as Drebin's new love interest, Jane. Like Nielson, she plays her role deadpan, but with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and her role is well-written to play on the genre stereotypes that we are all familiar with. Indeed, it's through the interplay between Frank and Jane that much of the humour unfolds.
It's a shame that the focus is so much on Drebin and Jane, because this leaves little opportunity for other favourite recurring characters from the TV show to make their mark and their appearances are either muted or non-existent. Johnny Shoeshine is nowhere to be seen, deviant boffin Ted Olson makes just one short appearance and is reduced to the role of Q-style inventor. His seedier side (one of the funniest aspects of his character in the TV show) is also played down (presumably to avoid alienating a wider audience not familiar with the original show). Ricardo Montalban, meanwhile, is lumbered with a pretty straightforward "bad guy" role and given little chance to exhibit any comedic muscles.
The biggest let-down, though, is George Kennedy replacing Alan North as Drebin's boss, Ed. The banter and interplay between Ed and Frank in the original TV series was a real highlight of the original series. Kennedy, on the other hand, barely seems to recognise that he's in a comedy and his absolutely straight (non-ironic) delivery of lines gives Nielson very little to work with. Even when the banter is there in the script, it falls rather flat in the delivery and Kennedy is not really suited to this kind of role. Presumably, he was brought in because he was a "bigger name" than Alan North, but it's not to the benefit of the film and upsets the excellent interplay which had been established by the TV series.
Unlike many modern comedies, Naked Gun has the good sense not to drag itself out for too long. Recognising that its general silliness and lack of any real plot can only sustain it for so long, the running time is just 85 minutes - only marginally longer than a couple of the original Police Squad! episodes sown together.
Whilst it might not shine quite as brightly as the original TV series, Naked Gun is still a very funny film. Providing you buy into its completely stupid humour, it's a film that will make you laugh throughout, and also one you can enjoy time and time again.
Director: David Zucker
Running time: approx. 85 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Frank is back... Heaven help us all