Thursday, 22 December 2016

"Naked Gun" - Comedy - A review.

Fig 1. Film Poster
"The Naked Gun" (1988) dir. David Zucker is the filmic reimagining of "Police Squad!" (1982) centers on Detective Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) and the eponymous 'Police Squad' as they investigate a culminating plot to kill the Queen of England. This madcap and often racy comedy is submerged wholeheartedly in comedy brought on by incongruity. A film that plays on our fixed expectations of people's behaviour for comedic effect.

Well regarded as it is, with 4 out of 5 from Roger Ebert, himself saying "You laugh, and then you laugh at yourself for laughing. Some of the jokes are incredibly stupid. Most of them are dumber than dumb. Yet this is not simply a string of one-liners." (Ebert, 1988) Naked Gun isn't merely a vehicle for dumb jokes, in fact much of its humor is dry, and at odds with the stupidity on display. In a dedication to Leslie Nielsen after his death in 2010, Catherine Shoard, writing for the Guardian, says, "It's easy these days to reflect on the films as pure slapstick, but they set out their political stall as take-no-prisoners satires right from the opening" (Shoard, 2010). It's a strange mix, indeed, splicing the irreverent with the mildly satirical for uneven and ultimately unclassifiable mix.

Fig 2. Frank Drebin
But what exactly is it that makes "The Naked Gun" funny?

Continuing along the same vein of madcap comedy established in Zucker's previous film "Airplane!" (1980), The Naked Gun is a somewhat irreverent beast that fires jokes at such a fervent pace it's easy for some to get lost in the mix. The real magic here is Nielsen himself, as he and his character deadpan their way through the entire movie, often at odds with the manic and relentless events surrounding not only Drebin, but his colleagues too, it is in the deliberacy of the characters inability to see the stupidity at play that generates a large amount of comedy. An example is when Drebin's colleague 'Nordberg' (played by O.J. Simpson) is injured (after being shot multiple times in the films opening) and in a hospital bed, Drebin is consoling Nordberg's wife and asks his other colleague - and main foil for the rest of the movie - 'Capt. Ed Hocken' (George Kennedy), if any of his men were on the case. Ed proclaims that his men are spread too thin because of the ensuing visit of the Queen of England, and Drebin promises Nordberg's wife that none of them will rest until Nordberg's attackers were brought to justice, before swiftly exclaiming "Now let's get lunch".

Of course, as fondly remembered as the film itself is, it for Nielsen, his "role of Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun is the best performance by the comedy star. The partnership of David & Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams - also known as ZAZ - resulted in some of the greatest comedy movies of the 1980€™s" (Leigh, 2011) Nielsen showcased a paticular style of acting that he mined until his death in 2010, starring as a patchwork of the same character again and again in a vast array of 'spoof movies' up until that time. But it all traced back to "The Naked Gun", and personally, that is what I remember him most fonly for.

There is a large amount of slapstick comedy at play too, and it continues in with the same 'daftness' that permeates the dialogue. Over-the-top like the masters of old, Drebin goes from shooting at his own car as it rolls down a hill, hanging from the edge of a building by a concrete phallus to (which I imagine to be a twisted homage to Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last" (1923), at least stylistically), in absolute futile, telling a crowd of onlookers that "there's nothing to see here" whilst a fireworks factory blows up behind him. But these are mere moments in a film packed with hundreds of them, to the point where I still discover more and more background jokes, missed offhand lines and other pieces in this multi-faceted exercise in daft-escalation.

Fig 3. Jane and the pot roast

Drebin's interplay with Jane (Priscilla Presley) makes for some of the most self aware and prescriptively bonkers moments though, especially as the two begin to fall for each other, which is when the viewer realises that they should perhaps give up trying to make sense of what they're seeing and 'go with it'. It plays as a music video just after the couple have had 'safe sex' wearing human sized condoms. It features slow motion shots of them running hand in hand, intercut with them throwing a beach ball to each other until Drebin is felled by a larger ball as Jane reaches for the original one. Shots of them getting candy-floss and getting matching loveheart tattoo's whilst laughing maniacally in each others faces. The two then get hotdogs and end up covering themselves and their server in sauce, and then the two enter...a rodeo?  Accompanying this is the ever so gleeful tones of "I'm Into Something Good" by Herman's Hermits and If this is beginning to sound uber-cheesy then the penny has dropped. The montage ends on the couple leaving a showing of "Platoon" in hysterics and a finishes the shot of them running on the beach by having them 'clothesline' another couple. If it wasn't enough, they decide to ram home the lunacy of the situation when Jane says "we've had a beautiful day, I can't believe we just met yesterday".

If I had to pick an absolute favorite scene to breakdown, it'd have to be the scene where Frank Drebin returns home from Beirut, stepping off the plane to an impromptu press conference Drebin mistakenly believes is for him. In actuality it's for Weird Al' Yankovic (who, strangely, has many cameos throughout the trilogy), but Drebin begins to unload on an unsuspecting press junket about his sorry life, lamenting over a recent breakup and in general, being pathetic. It is only then that his colleague Ed lets him know that the press aren't there for him, to which Nielsen replies, as you'll grow used to by the end of this movie, with a look of dumbfoundment, and a simple "oh".

This is a film that moves so fast, and fires so many jokes that it's possible to get lost in the mix, but it's also in the characters inability to realise their own ineptitude where the comedy is really generated. These are weird people, getting into weird situations and still, against all logic, coming out on top. The Naked Gun is my absolute favorite comedy movie, one that I come back to every year because it still makes me laugh.


Ebert, Roger. (1988) "The Naked Gun". Rogerebert.com [online] At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-naked-gun-1988 [Accessed 22/12/16]

Leigh, Stephen. (2011) "Blu-ray Review: THE NAKED GUN - Nice Beaver, Shame About The Blu-ray!". Whatculture.com [online] At: http://whatculture.com/film/blu-ray-review-the-naked-gun-nice-beaver-shame-about-the-blu-ray [Accessed 22/12/16]

Shroad, Catherine. (2010) "Leslie Nielsen: A Career in Clips". theguardian.com [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2010/nov/29/leslie-nielsen-career-clips [Accessed 22/12/16]


Fig 1. Film Poster [image] At: http://1125996089.rsc.cdn77.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/the_naked_gun_from_the_files_of_police_squad.jpg [Accessed 22/12/16]

Fig 2. Frank Drebin. [image] At: http://static.srcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/Naked-Gun-Reboot-Movie-Paramount-2014.jpg [Accessed 22/12/16]

Fig 3. Jane and the pot roast. [image] At: http://1125996089.rsc.cdn77.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/the-naked-gun.jpg [Accessed 22/12/16]

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