Film Review: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
In 1988, David Zucker released the comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, based off the television series Police Squad. Starring Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O. J. Simpson, Susan Beaubian, Nancy Marchand, Raye Birk, Jeannette Charles, Ed Williams, Tiny Ron, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Reggie Jackson, and Jay Johnstone, the film grossed $78.8 million at the box office. Polled as the 14th best comedy of all time and selected by The New York Times as one of the best 1,000 movies ever made, Empire Magazine named it as the 7th funniest comedy film ever. It also received two sequels.
When Police Lieutenant Frank Drebin finds that his friend, Officer Nordberg, was wounded during an attempted heroin bust, he begins an investigation to find those responsible. However, he soon stumbles into a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II.
A film from the comedic trio that unleashed Airplane! onto the world, The Naked Gun is a brilliantly made spoof film parodying cop films along with film noire. And true to the fashion set forth by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, the film is full of great jokes hit the audience at ramming speed. That’s also great for the jokes that don’t do too well as the next one comes speeding in fast, not leaving anyone time to think about failed gags. But fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often and the audience is continually blindsided by good joke after good joke.
And what makes the film so good is that a lot of the humor changes up between hits, going from slapstick and visual puns to humorous homages and misdirection. And it actually starts during the opening credits with a cop car viewed from the angle of its emergency lights careening through impossible situations, such as on rollercoaster tracks, in a private home and a women’s shower. Presumably it’s driven by Drebin as the films show that he’s not such a great driver, referenced in how he tells Jane that after meeting her, he noticed thing she never saw before, like stop lights. But his terrible driving isn’t just when he’s behind the wheel, but instructing a student driver too.
But, as stated, there’s plenty more from there, like Drebin complimenting Jane on her beaver, only for her to hand him a taxidermy beaver. One of the most notable situations is when he’s snooping and accidentally sets the room on fire. His escape is full of insane humor, like him trying to climb between anatomically-correct statues and accidentally fondling a real woman between them. It just continues to develop humorously with him breaking off a certain piece of the statue, falling into the room with said woman and brandishing it while trying to catch his breath. The mayor is none too happy.
Speaking of the mayor, she does a great job in providing the straight man to Drebin, where none of the police officers, or even the chief, seem to care that he’s a bumbling moron. They’re all trying to list reasons why he should be kept on the force following an accidental tackling of Queen Elizabeth, but since she actually sees the absurdity of everything, she realizes how much of a danger Drebin is. Turns out she relents after his insanity saves the day. And even then, she does provide some humor due to her believing herself in a perfectly normal universe when she’s in one where Drebin has the ability to save the day.
What’s more is that it seems that Drebin hilariously just seems to find crazy situations to get into. At the beginning of the film, he’s seen in Beirut beating up a meeting of dictators and it turns out that he just went to the country for a vacation.
However, what really makes the humor so well done is Nielsen’s delivery of Drebin’s lines. He delivers them like he’s actually in a dramatic cop film noir. To have a guy that sounds like he’s narrating an actual case that involves an assassination of Queen Elizabeth II by Reggie Jackson turned Manchurian candidate with nothing but deadpan seriousness is hilarious. And then he never has any comical reactions to anything that happens. It works because for him, it’s a normal day on the force, as opposed to the mayor who, as mentioned above, thinks Drebin’s antics aren’t making for a normal day.
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