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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad

In this world are hundreds of objects which are fantastic by themselves.  Yet, by combining some of these objects together, the whole ends up being more extraordinary than its parts.

There are lots of examples of this out there.  Peanut butter and chocolate mixed together creates the work of art known as the peanut butter cup.  Vanilla ice cream is a tasty enough treat made all the better by hot fudge.  And for some people, a simple glass of orange juice gets a kick by adding a tiny splash of vodka.

(Of course, one person’s tiny splash might equate to half a bottle, but that’s their choice.)

Today’s blog subject is a movie that is one of my favourites.  The reason why is because it takes two subjects that I absolutely love, and combined them together into an unexpected and hilarious box office smash.

I have always loved stories, books, movies, and songs that have an aura of mystery and action.  From murder mysteries to crime dramas to secret missions, all of these grab my attention.  In fact, when I was a teenager, I once contemplated studying law or becoming a private investigator. 

And then I saw my first autopsy on CSI and it sickened me off the profession for good.  Even though I know that they don’t really DO autopsies on CSI, it still makes me wince.

Regardless, I always loved a good mystery, especially if the case is especially tough to solve, and if it has a lot of dramatic car chases or action sequences.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m also a huge fan of parody.  I liked watching Saturday Night Live or MAD-TV, I’m notorious for changing around song lyrics around the holidays in something I like to refer to as “The Bastardization of Christmas Past”, and I love watching people doing improv.

I love parody so much that I even did a blog entry on the subject, which you can read HERE, if you wish.

So, given what I have said about combinations being blended together, you can imagine where I’m going with this, right?

Today we’re going to look back at a movie that successfully combined an action-filled detective story with the fine art of parody.  It’s a movie that was released on December 2, 1988, and spawned a couple of sequels in 1991 and 1994.  The movie was made on a twelve million dollar budget and ended up making over six times that at the box office.  And with the movie boasting such star power as Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, and O.J. Simpson (well, before his infamous murder trial in the mid-1990s anyway), it was destined for success.

I’m sure by now, you’ve guessed what the movie is, but let’s watch the intro anyway.

Yes, we’re going to take a look back at the 1988 film, “Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad”.

But do you know where the name came from...the Police Squad portion of it, at least?

Well, the story behind that came six years prior, in 1982.  That spring, ABC debuted a new television program called “Police Squad”.  It was created by the team of Jerry and David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams (who also worked on the successful 1980 motion picture “Airplane!”), and like the movie, Leslie Nielsen was one of the stars.  The show itself was a spoof of police dramas, and incorporated dozens of sight gags, slapstick comedy, and wordplay.  The show was critically acclaimed, but for whatever reason, ABC pulled the plug on the series after only a half dozen episodes had aired.  Despite this, the show gained a cult following, and it was this following that garnered interest in the Naked Gun movie.

Neilsen reprised the role he played on the Police Drama series, Lt. Frank Drebin, a detective who unbeknownst to him causes a whole lot of mayhem and unfortunate circumstances for innocent bystanders during his investigations.  Despite this, he always managed to put the right person behind bars.

And certainly, as the film begins, we see Frank Drebin in action right away, successfully dismantling an anti-American summit held by such figures as Fidel Castro, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Idi Amin, amongst others.  I could describe what happens, but I think a video is worth a thousand words in this case.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Officer Nordberg (Simpson) is at a harbour, investigating a heroin operation on a nearby barge.  The head of the organization is the dangerous Vincent Ludwig (Montalban), and once Ludwig’s cronies get wind of Nordberg’s presence, they shoot him over and over, with Nordberg eventually falling overboard.

Miraculously, Nordberg survives the multiple bullet wounds, and ends up in hospital.  But, Nordberg’s situation goes from bad to worse, as the police suspect that Nordberg was secretly involved in Ludwig’s drug trafficking scheme.  Drebin agrees to try and clear Nordberg’s name, but his commanding officer Captain Ed Hocken (Kennedy) gives Drebin twenty-four hours to accomplish this task.  Drebin is assisted by a police force scientist named Ted Olsen (Ed Williams), and Olsen gives Drebin a weapon in the form of a cufflink.  If pressed correctly, the cufflink could shoot a miniature tranquilizer dart that would temporarily knock an assailant out cold for a few hours.  Remember this for makes an appearance within the last 20 minutes of the movie...though you’ll have to see it for yourself, as I never reveal movie endings.

But, Drebin soon realizes that the road to proving Nordberg’s innocence (which actually seems quite ironic given what would eventually happen to the person who played Nordberg) is not going to be easy.  You see, Ludwig had his own secret weapon.  And that secret weapon was named Pahpsmeir (Raye Birk).  Pahpsmeir happened to be a little bit of an inventor himself, and he has invented a beeper which could also be used as a mind-control device.  One click of the beeper, and the unsuspecting victim could be told to do ANYTHING with post-hypnotic suggestions.  Ludwig also learns that Pahpsmeir invented the device as an aid in Ludwig’s plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II by making someone else do the deed under hypnosis.

TRIVIA:  This part of the plot was based from the 1977 film, “Telefon”.

An attempt is made on Drebin’s life shortly after Drebin meets with Ludwig, accidentally revealing that Nordberg survived the shooting.  He manages to take control of a doctor at the hospital where Nordberg is recovering, and attempts to kill Nordberg at the hospital.  Luckily (or unluckily depending on your perspective), Drebin foils the plan, and ends up in a “dramatic” car chase.

However, Drebin ended up with another problem.  He ended up falling head over heels in love with Ludwig’s assistant, Jane Spencer (Presley).  Jane is unaware of Ludwig’s criminal past, and once she discovers the truth, she firmly aligns with Drebin, and shares everything with more ways than one.

Well, at least you can say that they were responsible...much more so than some people that I’ve known in my lifetime at least.  J

So, here’s our situation.  Ludwig is the head of a drug trafficking operation.  He has joined forces with Pahpsmeir, a man who has invented a device that can turn people into trained assassins with the press of a button.  Pahpsmeir’s goal is to assassinate the Queen of England, but Ludwig seems to want to use it to get rid of Nordberg.  Meanwhile, Drebin is trying to prove that Nordberg was framed by Ludwig and his henchmen, but is finding that danger lurks everywhere.  To complicate matters, he has fallen in love with Jane.

It all comes to a head when some of Frank’s poor choices lead him to nothing but trouble.  It’s bad enough that he accidentally sets Ludwig’s office ablaze.  But when he believes that Ludwig is going to kill Queen Elizabeth II at a reception, Frank causes an international scandal, which ultimately leads to him being removed from Police Squad.

So when Jane comes to Frank with the information that the assassination attempt on the Queen is set to happen at a California Angels baseball game, and that the assassin is rumoured to be one of the players in the game, Drebin is left with a tough choice.  Does he sit back and do nothing and let the Queen take a bullet?  Or does he risk getting arrested, and go to the game to protect the Queen and foil Ludwig’s plans once and for all?

And with that, I’m going to close the case file on this film, which I believe to be a perfect balance of two genres that I enjoy.  Combining the thrill of action and the suspense of mystery to the farcical nature of parody was a tough feat for any director.  Luckily, David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams did a fantastic job with it.

Sadly, Leslie Nielsen passed away in November 2010, so with his passing, the Naked Gun series officially comes to an end.  But, I’ve only tackled the first film.  Maybe next year, I’ll revisit the series and talk about the sequel...

...hmmm...actually, it was called 2 ½, wasn’t it?  What would it be called then?  A halfquel?  A sequel-half?  A Sequalf?

Quite the conundrum, isn’t it?  Much like this one final scene...

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