My Misspent Youth In Films...
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Directed by: David Zucker
Starring: Leslie Nielson, Priscilla Presley, O.J. Simpson
Released: December 2, 1988
What I Thought Then
I thought Leslie Nielson was a comic genius based on this movie, its sequel, and the various other spoofs he made.
What I Think Now
I've said it before, but satire is extremely hard to pull off, and I generally don't think Abrams and Zucker are as good at it as they're reputed to be. Their best works tend to be remakes of actual schlock rather than send-ups of shlocky trends in genre pieces. Notably, Airplane! is a remake of Zero Hour with jokes added in, and the pilot episode of Police Squad! is essentially a remake of the second season premier of the show M Squad. Side note: do people know that Police Squad! was a television show? Or that The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (seriously, with the exclamation points) was essentially a continuation of it? It only ran for six episodes, and also starred Leslie Nielson as Frank Drebin doing the deadpan silliness that would define the rest of his career. Side note to the side note: do people know that Leslie Nielson wasn't known for comedy until the 80s? It's kind of jarring to go back and watch Prom Night and see him in a serious role. And then it's even more jarring to realize that Prom Night came out after Airplane!
Anyway, all of that heavy caveating aside... The Naked Gun is pretty darn good, actually. I grew up watching reruns of Dragnet on Nick At Nite, so I instantly recognized the tone that was being aped. Police Squad! was a television show satirizing television shows, but when the concept was moved over the big screen, the plot also got bigger, giving it a little bit of a remove from the "gritty" crime dramas of the seventies. In some ways, The Naked Gun feels more like a spy thriller than a police procedural. And the raised stakes just makes the inherent silliness of the movie feel that much sillier. The plot actually makes sense and has a bit of an arc to it, instead of just being a framework to hang comic vignettes on (looking at you, early John Hughes). It's 90 minutes long, which is the perfect length for a broad comedy (looking at you, late Judd Apatow). The jokes are funny. Oh, they're dumb and sophomoric, but they're relentless and they mostly land. The only thing that's aged... not "poorly", but definitely weirdly... is that O.J. Simpson is here in a prominent role. But he doesn't have all that much screen time, and when he does, he's very watchable. If you can get past the whole thing about how he probably murdered his wife.
Yes. Even with the O.J. Simpson weirdness hanging over its head, it's still a fairly entertaining comedy.