Should I Watch..? 'The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!'
What's the big deal?
The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! (often shortened to The Naked Gun) is a comedy film released in 1988 and is a film spin-off of the short-lived TV sit-com Police Squad!, written by brothers Jerry & David Zucker and Jim Abrahams. Like the show, the film is a parody of police procedural drama with a fast-paced string of verbal and visual gags and slapstick. The film stars Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, Ricardo Montalban and OJ Simpson and follows the efforts of an incompetent LAPD officer to foil an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II. Released to critical and commercial success, it spawned two sequels released in 1991 (The Smell Of Fear) and 1994 (The Final Insult) and is widely considered one of the funniest films ever made.
What's it about?
With a forthcoming visit to Los Angeles by Queen Elizabeth II due imminently, Officer Nordberg is investigating a heroin smuggling operation at the docks before being violently apprehended by goons belonging to the dock's owner, Vincent Ludwig. After receiving the news about Nordberg from his boss Captain Ed Hocken, Police Squad lieutenant Frank Drebin visits him in hospital and learns several cryptic clues from the wounded Nordberg. Hocken also tells Frank that Nordberg's jacket contained traces of heroin and with Police Squad in charge of the Queen's security, Drebin only has 24 hours to clear Nordberg's name before the scandal erupts.
After visiting Ludwig in his office, Frank is delighted to be assisted by Ludwig's personal secretary Jane Spencer and an unlikely romance begins to blossom. But Jane, who is unaware of Ludwig's criminal dealings, is merely following Ludwig's instructions which mask a far deadlier plot to assassinate the Queen during her visit. Can Frank stop this diabolical menace from completing his evil plan, once Frank gets around to figuring out exactly what it is?
Lt. Frank Drebin
Capt. Ed Hocken
Queen Elizabeth II
Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Pat Proft*
Release Date (UK)
10th February, 1989
What's to like?
Anyone familiar with the work of the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams (known collectively as ZAZ) will know what to expect here. The Naked Gun is an avalanche of comedy designed to completely bury its audience with sight gags, one-liners, slapstick comedy and visual puns. And much like their earlier effort Airplane!, the majority do manage to make you laugh to some degree and isn't that the point of a comedy? Nielsen is in top form here as the bumbling Drebin, never once dropping his straight-faced façade in spite of the chaos around him. Ably assisted by Kennedy and Presley, the film is far more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Even actors like Montalban and Simpson, long before his alleged murdering days, manage to make you smile.
Naturally, the film is somewhat childish in its approach to the narrative but in a way, you don't really care because it simply doesn't matter. The film's very purpose is to make you laugh and most of the time, it does. The humour can get a little near to the knuckle at times, preventing it from reaching a more family-friendly audience but the film is a sheer delight and further reinforced Nielsen's unlikely career resurgence after his barn-storming appearance in the aforementioned Airplane!. The film would also make a star of Presley who had been stuck in Dallas for years until this series would rescue her.
- The film features a large number of cameos from the world of baseball such as right fielder Reggie Jackson, outfielder Jay Johnstone, announcer Curt Gowdy and umpire Joe West. But despite the film's climax set at a California Angels home game, it was actually filmed at nearby Dodger Stadium instead.
- The only actors from the TV show to retain their original roles were Nielsen as Frank Drebin, Ed Williams as forensic scientist Ted Olsen and Tiny Ron as Big Al, the lab technician whose face is always out of shot. Kennedy lobbied hard for his role in the film because he was furious at missing out of spoofing himself in Airplane!
- The uncredited actor playing the driving instructor was John Houseman, an actor and producer who enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with Orson Welles. This was his last on-screen performance.
What's not to like?
The film isn't exactly cutting edge these days with many of the cameos in the film being lost on today's generation, with the possible exception of Weird Al Yankovic. There is no denying that the film hasn't dated as well as you'd hope. Take the film's opening sequence featuring Drebin disrupting a meeting of America's leading enemies such as Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini, Fidel Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev - all of them footnotes in history and mostly all but forgotten.
Aside from the odd sight of convicted criminal and thoroughly disgraced OJ Simpson mugging his way through a comedy classic, there isn't much more to say. It lacks a little of the bite that made Airplane! unmissable and a little of the inventiveness of their other spoof, Top Secret! But the film is still a riotous comedy by anybody's standard and there is just no point in suggesting otherwise.
Should I watch it?
From start to finish, The Naked Gun is an absolute triumph that entertains and amuses with almost embarrassing ease. Thanks to Nielsen's pitch-perfect delivery and a typically brilliant script that consistently smashes one-liners out of the park, the film deserves its reputation for being one of the funniest and silliest films you're ever likely to see. It still makes a mockery of other so-called spoofs that have about as much wit as an elephant's breakfast.
Great For: comedy fans, Eighties revival nights, the parody genre, tickling funny bones
Not So Great For: actual cops, escaping being typecast, other so-called spoofs
What else should I watch?
After the success of The Naked Gun, parody films would begin a sad and slow decline starting with Hot Shots!, an intentional send-up of action movies like Top Gun that featured Charlie Sheen alongside Lloyd Bridges - himself enjoying a career revival after Airplane!. And while the first Scary Movie had its moments, the numerous sequels offered less and less enjoyment. By the time the parody genre had reached the likes of Epic Movie and Disaster Movie, the genre was all but dead to a point where it's hard to imagine such a film coming along and enjoying the success seen here.
Back in the day, parody films were a lot of fun and weren't reliant on bodily fluids for comedy. Mel Brooks' brilliant Western satire Blazing Saddles broke new ground on what was possible in a film, which he followed up with films like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and Spaceballs. But even he gave up after the terrible reception that greeted Dracula: Dead And Loving It which coincidentally also starred Nielsen. Sometimes, even greatness isn't enough...
© 2018 Benjamin Cox