Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: David Zucker
Written by: Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Pat Proft
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy & O.J. Simpson
As the Zucker brothers were making themselves known for absurd comedies lampooning specific genres (e.g. AIRPLANE! and TOP SECRET!), they attempted their hand at humor on the small screen with the TV series POLICE SQUAD! The short-lived show lasted for a total of 6 episodes due to disagreements between the creators and the network (including the lack of a laugh track, because God forbid that a viewer figures out what parts they find funny and aren’t fed canned audience guffaws). Fortunately for fans of wacky sight gags and silly dialogue, this cancellation resulted in NAKED GUN which broke out to be a monster hit and spawned two sequels. It has since become known as one of the greatest spoof movies of all time. Its reputation is well-earned and the film has aged like a fine wine. NAKED GUN is utterly hysterical. This is the equivalent of a live-action cartoon with all sorts of goofiness included.
Lieutenant Frank Drebin has just returned to US soil from a successful mission taking down a group of dictators to find that his girl has left him and that his partner Nordberg has been shot in the line of duty. In order to avenge his comatose partner, Frank digs deep into a scandal involving drugs, a mysterious land contractor, and a possible assassination plot of a certain Queen of England. His path also throws him into the alluring airhead Jane Spencer, whom he quickly falls in love with.
Penned by four writers (one of which also directed) and running at just over 80 minutes, the jokes in NAKED GUN are fired at a rapid pace. There are so many bits of dialogue and over-the-top sight gags thrown at the viewer that it’s easy to miss all of them on your first time around. Even though I had seen this movie multiple times during my junior high years, I still caught a lot of things in the background that I didn’t notice during the many previous viewings. There’s about an average of a joke every 30 seconds and those rare instances without a laugh are setting up an even better set piece that is well worth the wait (Frank breaking-in to a certain apartment always cracks me up). Leslie Nielsen plays Frank Drebin and it’s my personal favorite role of his career. The cast around him mostly portray everything with deadpan seriousness that makes the absurdity even more hilarious to behold. Particularly, Ricardo Montalban is fantastic as the villain and plays his role as if he’s in a real police thriller (making Nielsen’s scenes with him that much more ridiculous).
NAKED GUN has a go for broke attitude and not every joke will work for everyone, but it’s hard to imagine someone disliking or even walking away indifferent from this ingenious work of hilarity. It’s far from high-brow, but hysterical on many basic levels. The writing is comedy gold and the performances (especially Nielsen) make the whole affair into damn near perfect entertainment. There’s a reason this has gone on to be considered one of the greatest spoof films by many. It may be parodying the entire cop thriller genre, but it also has its own story that remains pretty clever in its own wacky way. Also O.J. Simpson has rightfully earned a stigma around him in real life and his reputation as a person might put a damper on this film for some people, but I find that the insane amounts of pain hitting his character over and over again are satisfying for both on-screen and off-screen purposes. It’s kind of like icing on the comedic cake. At least for me, that is.
NAKED GUN is hilarious the whole way through. It’s perfectly paced (a scant 85 minutes) and the passage of over two decades hasn’t sucked any of the fun factor from this ridiculous, ludicrous, and remarkably enjoyable comedy about one incredibly stupid officer who gets the job done no matter what. Leslie Nielsen is the real star of this movie and the Zucker brothers were showing off their top form back in 1988. The sequels (I plan on reviewing them somewhere down the line) are both pretty funny as well, though this first installment is the best film. Stick this one on, travel back to a time when spoofs weren’t just cheap pop culture references and enjoy one of the greatest parodies of all time!