The Naked Gun and Police Academy

The Naked GunPolice AcademyBefore delving into a real comparison of these two movies, I should probably offer a disclaimer.  While I am using the category “Comedy” to file these movies here on Walking Taco, only one actually qualifies.  The Naked Gun is indeed a comedy by any definition: it’s smart and quick-witted, with a host of jokes ranging from cheap visual gags to elaborately constructed setpieces that go to great lengths just to get a laugh.  It also stars one of the funniest comic actors in the last three decades: Leslie Nielsen, whose deadpan delivery and impeccable comic timing have yet to be replicated.  Police Academy, however, is about as far from a comedy as a movie could possibly be.  Full of a cast of dull one-dimensional characters, painfully obvious setups leading to head-smacking punchlines that are an insult even to middle-school humor, this cinematic travesty is a turkey I would not wish upon anyone.  And it’s big star?  That dubious distinction goes to…(drum roll please)…Steve Guttenberg.  *sigh*

So what’s left to write about?  A lot, actually.

Frank Drebin

Frank Drebin, kicking criminal behinds and taking names...if only he could find a notepad.

Nearly every comic send-up today owes a huge debt to comedies like The Naked Gun and its forebears, Top Secret! and of course Airplane! (Because sometimes a title just needs an exclamation mark to, you know, really nail the point.) These types of spoofs work well because they offer pitch-perfect parodies of their subject matter (police movies, Elvis movies, and disaster movies, respectively) while never taking themselves seriously.  The Naked Gun, like most good parodies, has a plot that would actually work well in and of itself: the queen of England is coming to town, but her visit is put in grave danger by the threat of an assassin.  Veteran detective Frank Drebin (Nielsen) is called upon to protect the queen while also investigating the attempted murder of his longtime partner Nordberg (O.J. Simpson, who flexes an impressive set of comedy chops).  This fairly mundane premise offers fertile ground for all kinds of jokes and sight gags, and hardly any scene goes by without some kind of pun, joke, or visual absurdity.  While some fall flat, creators David and Jerry Zucker take a quantity-over-quality joke, flooding the movie with such a massive amount of comic moments that it’s impressive to behold.  From the opening credits, which are shown while the camera sits atop a police car, siren blaring, that careens through all kinds of strange locales including gritty city streets, a car wash, and a suburban living room, we know exactly what kind of movie it’s going to be.

Carey Mahoney.  Um...yeah.

Carey Mahoney. Um...yeah.

Police Academy, by contrast, stumbles from the opening scene and only gets worse from there out.  During the opening credits we are told point blank (violating one of the most basic rules of storytelling, show don’t tell) that the mayor of the city has declared that the police academy will accept anyone regardless of age, physical fitness, or education level.  Get it? Lots of crazy people are going to be put through cop training!  Oh gosh, I wonder what kind of wacky hijinks they will come up with!  …*sigh*…  Sure enough, we get a checklist of stupid characters so generic it almost hurts:  the dumb fat guy, the over-zealous military wannabe, the suave Latino, the silly black guy, the serious black guy, the hot chick, and finally our (supposedly) good-looking bad boy Carey Mahoney (Gutenberg).  Any and all attempts at humor land with a dull thud, such as when the fat guy (honestly, character names don’t even matter) shows up and asks Mahoney about the Academy.  Mahoney, who is desperate to get thrown out of the place, tells him that the Commandant’s house is the main office.  Gee, I wonder what will happen next?  Yup, you guessed it.  The stupid fat guy goes in the front door, continues through the living room, and accidentally walks in on the Commandant’s wife while she is taking a shower.  I mean seriously, it’s such an insipid setup for such a dumb joke I just about shut the movie off right then and there lest I actually get dumber while watching.  And the hope that maybe, just maybe, things would improve.

Nope…every single “joke” is just as stupid.  I honestly tried to find something funny in Police Academy, but like The Hangover, the film relies on raunch, substituting filth for funny.  It’s a startling contrast to The Naked Gun, which is funny because it takes serious situations and turns them on their head in hilarious ways you would never expect.  E. B. White said that analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies. Rather than taking apart an amphibian, I would suggest that anyone interested in finding out what makes something funny just watch The Naked Gun and Police Academy.  Or better yet, just skip the latter and watch The Naked Gun twice.


The Naked Gun

Police Academy

Last 5 posts by Simon R.

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