The Naked Gun (1988)

the naked gun

“Do any of you understand how a man can hurt inside?”

The Scoop: 1988 PG 13, Directed by David Zucker and starring Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley and Ricard Montalban

Tagline: You’ve read the ad, now see the movie!

Summary Capsule: Lt. Frank Drebin must foil a plot to assassinate the Queen (not OUR queen, you understand; we don’t have one)

Justin’s rating: Go, Drebin, Go!

Justin’s review: Out of all the full-frontal parody movies produced by Hollywood in the past 20 or so years (starting with the utter classic Airplane!), none have ever caught the spirit of satire so fully and in such a weird fashion as the spoofy Naked Gun series.

First off, here we have a movie that was spawned from a failed TV show (Police Squad, which had a hilarious run of just six episodes). Then, add the collaboration of Zuckers/Abraham/Zuckers (the sharp wits behind Airplane! and Top Secret!) to both the script and the directorial effort.

Next, take a TV genre — cop shows — that had been itching for parody through it’s popularity during the seventies and eighties. Yet, all might be in vain without a perfect leading man who could get away with physical and verbal humor, look somewhat cool and yet innocent, and be able to have a straight face in the midst of insanity. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leslie Nielson, who also participated back in the heyday of Airplane! Nielson really carries the series through his inner monologue and comedic faces, all the time giving the impression of a dirty old man who’s getting away with it all.

I’m a huge fan of parody flicks. When I need a laugh, where any laugh will do, I’ll easily turn to a movie that slings cheap jokes, slapstick humor, and enough sly pop culture references my way overwhelm the small part of me yearning for a deep, thoughtful drama. Hey, I don’t care that these movies have a plot that might as well been found on a sugar packet. I don’t mind that they’re going for the joke any way they can. All I want to do is laugh, and if it takes O.J. Simpson getting the stuffing beat out of him (which he deserves), so be it.

Taking all the best jokes from Police Squad with them, these bumbling officers of the law must uncover a twisted conspiracy to assassinate the Queen of England during her visit to the U.S. (like, honestly, anyone would really care). There’s Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) who’s more naive than an innocent Catholic schoolgirl; Nordburg (O.J.) who stumbles onto the plot and winds up in the hospital; Al (Tiny Ron), so big you can’t ever see his face on screen; tech guy Ted Olson (Ed Williams), who finds new and innovative ways to hurt other people; and finally clueless Frank Drebin (Nielson), who encounters the woman of his dreams (Priscilla Presley, thank Elvis for that) and the criminal of his nightmares. This criminal is none other than Khan himself (Star Trek fans shout: “KHAAAAAAAAAANNN!”), who’s got some sort of funky mind-control device.

There are a lot of great snippets of dialogue here, and I particularly enjoy Frank’s rambling monologue, which makes more horrible analogies than I ever could hope to achieve. Where Naked Gun really shines is its attention to physical gags: props, background jokes, and a long sequence of Frank taking a piss while wearing a mike still hooked up to a press conference. As in Airplane! and Hot Shots! (too many exclamation points for my tastes, thank you), there are also numerous parody references to films outside of the cop genre. Okay, maybe not… I watched the film looking for them. It seems Naked Gun relied on more original content (and a lower budget).

A lot of films in the mid- to late-90s have tried to duplicate the slapshot comedy of Naked Gun (I think of Mafia! and Spy Hard for a couple weaker examples), but they mostly bomb. Not for lack of trying, or for lack of ultra-clever in-jokes that become ultra-stupid uber-quick. But simply because they don’t have the spark of genius that Zuckers/Abraham/Zuckers provided Naked Gun, and also because they lacked the true essence of a leading comedic force known as Snookums. Er, I mean, Frank Drebin.

Kyle’s rating: Not sure where the title fits in, but this movie can do no wrong!

Kyle’s review: Like so many of the comedies we review on this site, it’s practically impossible to ascertain just how influential this movie has been on my life. My parents took me to see Naked Gun on opening night, and it was one of those eye-opening earth-shaking life-changing experiences that happen only occasionally during your time on Earth. I saw how effective sight gags could be, when executed properly (the “everywhere I look, something reminds me of her” scene with the twin silos is one of the greatest gags ever conceived). The potential for wackiness in ordinary situations and police hijinks suddenly became clear to me. And most importantly, I learned from protagonist Frank Drebin that often it’s the man who goes through life experiencing endless shenanigans while keeping a straight face that will get the job done, save the day, and get the girl. Woo hoo!

All Kyle-centric stuff aside, Naked Gun is a fabulous movie. So many who saw Airplane! knew that white-haired doctor had a big future in comedy, and here that premonition comes true. For all the sight gags and toilet humor, the pre-chewed gum holding this production together is Leslie Nielson, who impressively manages to be both a bumbling fool and a romantic hero.

How does he do it? While even I am not privy to the complex Leslie Nielson performance computations, I can point to the white hair and skillful cluelessness and wink slyly at my audience. Perhaps the true charm of Nielson’s performance is that while everyone else is running around being cops and bad guys and dames and the Queen of England, Drebin wanders through the action so indifferently that it’s like he knows he is just a character in a movie, man. You dig?

No wonder Drebin never acts surprised that people’s minds can be taken over via their watches, or that some stranger at a hot dog processing facility is shooting at him, or that a car driven by a giant air bag almost runs him over, or that his clothes can easily tear off with a slight tug at the collar. That’s right, not only does Drebin know he’s a fictional character, he also knows that life is so fleetingly ephemeral that it’s best to find love and good humor even in the unlikeliest of places, like the evil villain’s number one girl or the film Platoon. Maybe we could all stand to learn a little something from Frank Drebin. I know I sure have. So see Naked Gun, and just wait and see if life doesn’t get a little bit rosier and sunnier as a result!

It’s 1987’s prom night all over again.

Intermission!

  • The police car at the beginning stops at a doughnut shop
  • Weird Al Yankovic’s cameo
  • Drebin’s line about shooting the Shakespeare in the Park performers is a close parody of a line Harry Callahan says about shooting a rapist in Dirty Harry
  • The “breasts” that remind Frank of his ex-wife are concrete reactor containment domes at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California.
  • While it is made to appear like the home field of the California Angels, the baseball stadium is actually Dodger Stadium. According to David Zucker in the DVD commentary, the studio insisted on the casting of an Oscar winner in one of the major roles. This lead to the casting of George Kennedy, who had been actively campaigning for the role of Ed Hocken for months, saying that he was “furious at having missed his chance to spoof himself” in the movie Airplane!

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