After thwarting a mass international terrorist assembly single-handed, Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) of Los Angeles’ Police Squad returns home to find his girlfriend has left him and his partner, Nordberg (O.J. Simpson) is severely wounded attempting to bust a drug deal at the docks. With the Queen visiting town and it looking like Nordberg might be involved with a criminal plot to assassinate her, Drebin is given just 24 hours to solve the case.
Gill Jacob over at Real Weegie Midget is currently hosting the Darlin’ Dallasers blogathon, celebrating the film careers of the regular and guest stars of the US soap Dallas, a show I’ve never seen. Regardless, I wanted to take part anyway, so I took my usual strategy in these situations: I looked at the list of relevant actors, compared it to my list of 1001 Movies still to review, and found a match up with The Naked Gun featuring the great George Kennedy as Drebin’s boss, Captain Ed Hocken. Kennedy apparently played Carter McKay in the show, a fact that now has be at least somewhat interested to watch some of the episodes he was in because, ever since I caught up with the Airport franchise last year, I’ll watch George Kennedy in anything. Priscilla Presley, who played Jenna Wade on Dallas, is also in The Naked Gun, but I didn’t like her all that much in this film so let’s just skip over that.
Alas it had been some years since I last saw The Naked Gun or either of its sequels, and Kennedy’s role as the put-upon, befuddled police captain was far smaller than I remembered. Perhaps he gets more to do in the later films, I’ll have to re-watch them to refresh my memory. Still, he is great with the material given, a particular highlight being his confused, offended “Why?!?!” as he falls to the floor after a paralysing dart is tested upon him with little warning, and it was fun seeing Kennedy play a far less masculine character than I’m used to, in the likes of Cool Hand Luke or The Dirty Dozen.
It shouldn’t really have come as a surprise than George Kennedy doesn’t get a lot to do here, as this is primarily Nielsen’s show and he absolutely runs away with it. Nielsen first played Drebin six years earlier on the small screen in Police Squad!, a terrific show that sadly only ran six 25 minute episodes, and is well worth tracking down, even if some of the gags got re-used here, and it’s worth noting that I think The Naked Gun was Nielsen’s first starring comedic role since he took the turn into comedy with Airplane!, in which he was only a supporting player. Nielsen’s schtick is his deadpan delivery, essentially playing most scenes as seriously and earnestly as possible, except for the big prat-falling comedy, such as his encounter with a $20,000 fish and an even more valuable pen that is a little juvenile, but still very, very funny.
That’s the thing about The Naked Gun, like the best comedies it doesn’t just rely on one type of humour, and if the current joke isn’t doing anything for you then don’t worry, there’ll be another one along in just a few seconds. For me the best gags are the ones that set up a silly premise then play it out on a protracted scale, far beyond the point of ridiculousness. Take Nordberg’s drug bust, for example. As he breaks into a room full of criminals he does so in a way that alerts them all to his presence before he enters the room, so when he arrives they all have their guns drawn on him already, and eventually proceed to shoot him several times. This isn’t enough however, as Nordberg then bangs his head on something, burns his hand on a hot stove, leans against some wet paint, gets his hand caught in a window, falls face first into a wedding cake, gets his leg caught in a bear trap and then finally falls overboard. It’s just insane, and most of it can all be seen coming as the various props and weapons are essentially lined up behind him, but I find it hilarious. And even within that scene there are other jokes too. When Nordberg bursts through the door and tells the gunmen, all of whom have their weapons already drawn, to drop their guns, they all look sternly back at him, refusing, until one of them gives in and throws his gun down, then has to sheepishly pick it up again. Elsewhere the film provides punchlines for gags that occurred scenes earlier, that if you’re not paying attention you could miss. When leaving the airport, Drebin backs his car into some baggage carts. You think nothing of it, because Drebin’s terrible driving – particularly parking – is a running joke from back in Police Squad!, and the next shot is inside the car, with Frank and Ed having a conversation. It’s not until the next shot, when they arrive at their destination, that you see they’ve driven the entire journey with the baggage carts still attached to the car. The same happens later when a ring last seen on a man dying at a meta-packing facility crops up a few scenes afterwards.
For the rest of the cast, Ricardo Montalban is good as the blatant-from-the-off villain, although if anything he doesn’t really get enough to do, whereas Priscilla Presley is present far too much, and is a whole lot of not-good throughout. She isn’t terrible, she just has no chemistry with Nielsen, and all of her lines are delivered quite flatly, and the punchlines tend to fail too. It might have been an acting or a directorial decision to have her be a one-dimensional, cardboard cut-out kind of character, but whenever she was on screen the film took a downward turn and I longed for some more entertaining action, even if her presence does allow for the great safe sex visual gag.
Overall I highly recommend this if you’re a fan of parody films or comedy in general. I know some people – my fiancee for example – don’t enjoy these kinds of homaging comedies (she doesn’t even like Airplane!) but if you do, this is an absolute essential.
Choose Film 8/10