YOU’VE READ THE AD, NOW SEE THE MOVIE!
It opens with a meeting where the most evil leaders of the world have congregated to discuss a major plot to gain control of the world. Gaddafi is there, as well as Idi Amin, Gorbachev and Ayatollah Khomeini. Suddenly, one of the men serving drinks at the meeting can’t take it anymore. He reveals himself as Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad, and then he falls out of a window, but not before beating the living daylights out of the dictators. During the brawl we learn that the Ayatollah is hiding a mohawk hairdo under his turban and that Gorbachev’s famous birthmark is phony. Welcome to the movie adaptation of a TV series called Police Squad! (1982).
The show was a commercial failure, but the movie a big hit. Leslie Nielsen reprises his role as Frank Drebin, the modern equivalent of Jacques Clouseau. Drebin is equally clumsy and clueless, but the humor was more inspired by a movie Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and his brother Jerry made in 1980, Airplane!. Both films are loaded with sight gags and ridiculous deadpan exchanges; absolutely hilarious, they make repeated viewings necessary in order to catch all the silly gags.
What about the story? There isn’t much to say. After returning to Los Angeles, Drebin stumbles upon another conspiracy, this one aiming to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the city. Not that Drebin realizes all this, but he still manages to become an obstacle to the men behind the plot… as well as fall in love with Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley), the secretary to the main culprit, an industrialist (Ricardo Montalban).
Deadpan delivery of silly lines
Presley plays the love interest enthusiastically; another actor from Dallas, George Kennedy, joined the cast, as well as former football star and future murder suspect O.J. Simpson. Not one of these people had much experience with comedy – but that’s the great thing about these films. The Zucker brothers and Abrahams, also known as ZAZ, picked actors for Airplane! and this film that were kind of wooden, who would always play straight heroes without any discernible display of emotion. All they had to do was to play the same type of characters they did in old movies and deliver the hilariously stupid lines that the writers fed them. Nielsen had experience from Airplane! and Kennedy allegedly begged to play his partner; they are wonderful.
But it is Nielsen in particular that we should celebrate; this is his finest achievement and it launched a new career for him at the age of 62 as a star of lightweight comedies. His deadpan deliverance of silly lines is priceless, but even better is the amount of funny gags that actually work. Some don’t, some are just childish, but others make me laugh hard, such as the scene where Drebin forgets to remove his mike, or the one where he’s climbing the façade of a building and is mistaken for a pervert.
This was my favorite comedy when I was a kid. It didn’t have a comic genius like Peter Sellers. Its gags were not sophisticated. It wasn’t even a reinvention of a genre. It just made me laugh till I dropped, and that’s more than enough for any kid.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! 1988-U.S. 85 min. Color. Produced by Robert K. Weiss. Directed by David Zucker. Screenplay: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Pat Proft. Cast: Leslie Nielsen (Frank Drebin), George Kennedy (Ed Hocken), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), Ricardo Montalban, O.J. Simpson, Nancy Marchand. Cameos: John Houseman, “Weird” Al Yankovic.
Trivia: Bo Derek was allegedly considered for the part of Jane. Followed by two sequels, starting with The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991).
Quote: “Just think, next time I shoot someone, I could be arrested.” (Nielsen after being fired)
Last word: “I come from a background of performing, so it’s much easier to know what’s going to get the big laughs. When we were writing ‘Naked Gun’, we laughed at everything we put on the page. When we came up with the ‘Nice beaver’ line, we laughed for maybe a week. That was our joke of the week. But we also knew how Leslie was a lousy singer, so we knew it would be a great moment.” (Proft, Pitchfest.com)