Should I Watch..? 'The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear'
What's the big deal?
The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell Of Fear is a comedy film released in 1991 and is the second installment in The Naked Gun series. Based on the short-lived TV sitcom Police Squad, the film follows the misadventures of bumbling police officer Frank Drebin who finds himself involved personally and professionally in a bombing campaign against a prominent environmentalist. The film stars Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, OJ Simpson, former guest star on the show Robert Goulet and Richard Griffiths. The film was directed by series co-creator David Zucker (who also co-wrote the screenplay) while his associates Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker served as executive producers. The film was followed by a third film, The Final Insult, in 1994. Although the film received a more mixed reception than the first film, the film still went on to earn $86.9 million in the US.
What's it about?
While Lt. Frank Drebin is being honoured by President George Bush at the White House, his personal life has fallen apart as the love of his life, Jane Spencer, has left him and now works at the prestigious Meinheimer research centre for renewable energy. As for Professor Meinheimer himself, he is busy preparing recommendations for President Bush for a forthcoming important policy announcement regarding the future of energy in the US - a speech that has the heads of the coal, oil and nuclear industries very worried indeed.
After a bomb explodes at the Meinheimer centre, Drebin crosses paths with Jane once again as she was witness to a suspect fleeing the scene in a van. But Drebin quickly learns that Jane has moved on as he soon meets her new boyfriend, Hexagon Oil executive Quentin Hapsburg. While Drebin becomes consumed with jealousy, both he and Jane are unaware of Hapsburg's ultimate scheme - he has kidnapped Dr Meinheimer and plans to replace him with a duplicate who will endorse the use of fossil fuels instead of renewable energy...
Lt. Frank Drebin
Capt. Ed Hocken
Dr. Albert Meinheimer / Earl Hacker
Commissioner Anabell Brumford
David Zucker & Pat Proft*
Release Date (UK)
28th June, 1991
What's to like?
For any fans of the first Naked Gun movie or indeed the original show, you probably don't need me to tell you that this film is more of the same. Packed with silly sight gags, deadpan one-liners and more meta humour than you'd find in either of the Deadpool movies, The Smell Of Fear is a suitably silly follow-up to the beloved original. As always, this is largely thanks to Leslie Nielsen's superb performance as the incompetent Drebin, a cinematic cop so funny that he edges Peter Sellers' equally silly Clouseau from the Pink Panther films into second place. The comedy flows from the film like a burst dam and while it might lack the potency of the first film, there is still much in this movie to enjoy like Drebin's barbed but immature conversations with Hapsburg or the unfortunate series of events that sees Nordberg unexpectedly end up in Detroit.
Like other ZAZ films such as Top Secret!, the film isn't afraid of anything and is exhaustive in its efforts to get you to laugh. Not all of it works but you can't criticise the film for a lack of trying and if I'm honest, the success rate of gags in this film is still considerably higher than it is in other spoofs such as Hot Shots or Scary Movie. And Nielsen isn't the only star shining with the material - Presley and Kennedy have brilliantly written characters with dialogue to match Drebin's goofiness while Goulet is suitably smooth as the sophisticated socialite, even if he does tread in Ricardo Montalban's shoes from the first film. Griffiths, however, excels as Dr Meinheimer who seems to be the only sensible person on screen but who still ends up pulling wheelies in his wheelchair, flying in front of the moon ET-style and being just as silly as the repulsive red-necked Hacker.
- Like the rest of the films in the series, Weird Al Yankovic appears in a cameo although he actually plays a thug at the police station instead of himself. The part called for Yankovic to hold the station up before Drebin comes through a door and knocks him out. After sixteen takes, Yankovic admitted that his leg had turned a nice shade of purple and the stunt coordinator then asked him if he wanted to wear some padding.
- The love scene between Frank and Jane involves a pottery wheel at some point, an obvious dig at the famous love scene from Ghost from the year before. That film was directed by Jerry Zucker, the brother and long-time associate of director David Zucker. David also appears in this film in a cameo - he is Davy Crockett at the police shootout scene.
- The famous opening credits, set atop a police squad's flashing lights and involved in a number of unlikely pursuits, ends with Zsa Zsa Gabor slapping the police car. This spoofs a real-life incident in 1989 where Gabor was arrested for slapping a police officer and driving without a valid licence in Beverly Hills.
What's not to like?
In truth, there isn't much to find fault with. Obviously, whether the film works as a comedy or not depends very much on your sense of humour so if these silly parodies don't do it for you then it's unlikely that The Smell Of Fear will change your mind. It is noticeably less amusing than the first film or even the increasingly revered Airplane! that brought international recognition to the ZAZ team. And I said before, certain elements feel recycled from the first film such as Hapsburg's character being a retread of the villain from before. Compared to Airplane!, the film lacks some of the edginess and daring humour we enjoyed before - in fact, the most shocking thing about the movie these days is the appearance of a pre-murder trial OJ Simpson reprising his role as Nordberg.
If I'm being hypercritical then I could accuse the film of feeling focused and more scattershot than its predecessor. One thing that is noticeable is the aforementioned spoof of the love scene in Ghost - personally, I feel that if a parody has to rely on aping more successful or popular movies at the time then it doesn't work. Anyone can poke fun at other films and it feels a little too immature for my tastes but consider that neither Airplane! or the original Naked Gun had such scenes. But regardless, how can you criticise a film that doesn't just make you laugh but laugh again on repeat viewings? There's so much to enjoy here that you're better off watching it again just to catch everything.
Should I watch it?
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell Of Fear is a decent enough follow-up to one of the best spoof comedies ever made but falls just short in terms of originality and jokes. Nevertheless, the film is still miles better than countless other parody films that followed in its wake including the weaker third film, The Final Insult. Nielsen's career revival as the ultimate deadpan comic actor continued with this silly and childish sequel that pushed nearly all of this viewer's buttons.
Great For: fans of spoof films or ZAZ comedies, fans of the TV show, political lookalikes in showbusiness
Not So Great For: overly serious critics, anyone who doesn't have a childish side, oil industry executives
What else should I watch?
The team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (usually abbreviated to ZAZ) have been producing slapstick comedies and parody films since they wrote the 1977 sketch comedy film The Kentucky Fried Movie. But the trio struck solid gold on their first studio attempt - not only was Airplane! a witty and outright hilarious parody of many disaster movies from the Seventies but also a runaway hit with audiences and critics alike, many of whom had never seen anything quite like it. While their TV debut Police Squad! was cancelled after just one six episode season, it did provide the inspiration for the Naked Gun movies which proved to be their most successful series to date.
In fact, the trio were so successful that parody films suddenly sprung up everywhere and became a genre in their own right. But few matched the comedic standard ZAZ had set and even Nielsen, by now considered the king of spoofs, struggled to match the success he enjoyed as Drebin. Trapped by typecasting, Nielsen appeared in films such as Wrongfully Accused and Spy Hard while his appearance in Mel Brooks' final film to date Dracula: Dead And Loving It was also a disappointment. Other films actually worth a look include the fantastic Team America: World Police which introduces heavy political commentary alongside marionette puppetry and the British action crime comedy Hot Fuzz, the second film in the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox