a critiQal film review Police Academy (1984)

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Plot: As a crime wave sweeps through the city, the mayor decides to open the door of the city's Police Academy to anyone who wants to join. Soon, the new class is overrun with misfits and losers, including Carey Mahoney (Guttenberg), who is given the choice of joining the force or going to jail. Constantly befuddled Commandant Lassard (Gaynes) and his lackey, Lt. Harris (Bailey), are none too thrilled with their new charges, but the more they try to force the cadets to quit, the more determined Mahoney and his classmates are to make good.

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521 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 36s)

Recently, while scrolling through the latest releases available to watch instantly on NetFlix®, we stumbled across a movie we barely remember, but one that has spawned way too many sequels: Police Academy.

We decided to re-watch this barely-remembered first film. But, would we discover why the series has continued to pump out sequels? Or shake our heads at the ludicrousness of this first film, and continue to scratch our heads in puzzled bewilderment over the success of the continuing series?

Known more for the dubious honor of really kick-starting the career of Steve Guttenberg, Police Academy puts this relative unknown in the driver’s seat. Previously he’d only really caught the public’s eye with Diner. In this starring role, however, Steve puts out his usually goofy down-to-earth charm that made him such a memorable face of the 80’s (going on to star in not only the Police Academy sequels, but other 80’s faves like Short Circuit and Cocoon).

As it would later turn out, the goofy “normal guy” was all he could do, and seeing the same character over and over eventually grew old (and irritating) to the public. But, in this early film he was considered a sort of off-beat comic hero and audiences ate it up.

It’s really the supporting cast around Guttenberg that help Police Academy stay watchable these days. Sure, most of the characters are one-dimensional. But, seeing G. W. Bailey play big bully Lt. Harris, Bubba Smith as the impressively large Hightower, George Gaynes as the befuddled Cpt. Lassard (a character Leslie Nielsen would seem to emulate in most of his roles later on), or hear Michael Winslow use his mouth to imitate everything from a video game to a machine gun? Those are still fun even to this day.

Police Academy‘s basic plot – the idea of having any sort of odd character sign up for police training – without the normal limitations to impede them – sets the film up to span it’s umpteen sequels. All it has to do is toss some new oddballs into the mix, present them with a new challenge or two, and voila! Instant movie. In this first film, the misfits themselves are pretty tame, and fall into some basic categories: rebel, nerd, gun freak, troublemaker and bully, among others. The grand finale (which includes a riot) is also incredibly tame, and really doesn’t add much excitement to the film.

Instead, the film is all about the training of these misfits, and some of that still produces some laughs. As the “war” escalates between the misfits and the by-the-book cops who don’t want them there, the laughs start coming a bit steadier. Even then, however, the film feels a bit thrown together, making the viewer feel a bit irritated as the film starts skipping around from one quick take to another.

By the end, Police Academy has more of a “gag reel” feel than a complete film. Unfortunately, not all of it’s jokes are that funny. Still, it does manage to produce an occasional laugh, thanks to it’s supporting cast, and isn’t too bad to revisit every once in awhile.

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