With all the ridiculous spoofs coming out these days (Vampires Suck, Dance Flick (2009), Shriek! If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, Stan Helsing), I could only groan at the absurdity of it all.
Wanting to re-visit a spoof that was actually worth the film it was made on, I decided to watch The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! which I remembered as being uproariously funny. But, would the passage of time – not to mention the dark cloud that now hangs over the name of one of the stars of the film, OJ Simpson – would Leslie Nielsen’s second funny spoof (the first being, of course, the infamous Airplane!) be still be worthy of laughs today?
Leslie Nielsen, playing the dim-bulb cop from the barely-watched series Police Squad! (TV) is top-notch in The Naked Gun. As he stumbles his way through the film, committing moronic act after moronic act, he somehow manages to still endear his character to viewers. With more recent spoof films using throwaway main characters, having a character that viewers care about is a rarity. But Nielsen manages to get the viewer interested in his character in spite of his ridiculous acts, and makes the forehead-slapping goofs even funnier because of it.
Priscilla Presley works just as well as Nielsen’s love interest in the film, playing a rather clumsy seductress rather well. She manages to be both sincere and silly at the same time, which is an impressive feat, and her chemistry with Nielsen is much better than one would at first imagine.
Ricardo Montalban’s character is much more a straight-forward villain, borrowing a lot of his characteristics from notorious Bond villains of yore. Sure, his scheme is a bit hair-brained, but his oily villain pulls it off perfectly. OJ Simpson actually does a decent job in his few moments as Nordberg, but viewers these days may get a little more satisfaction than before at watching him get pummeled mercilessly throughout the film by friend and foe alike…and his drawn-out attempted murder near the beginning the film is that much better when viewers are feeling a bit of vicarious payback for this now real-life villain.
Full of site gags throughout, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! adds to the fun with some hilariously embarrassing sequences for Nielsen’s apparently shameless Lt. Frank Drebbin, letting the viewer laugh at the character without feeling even the slightest twinge of guilt about it. After all, it never seems to bother him, so why should it bother the viewer?
With so many sight gags and truly ridiculous situations, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! could have easily degenerated into the kind of spoof that abounds these days – with cardboard characters just going from site gag to sight gag with only a loose storyline to tie the items together. But, with a strong central character played to a T by Leslie Nielsen, a surprisingly good turn by love interest Priscilla Presley, a familiar-yet-fresh oily villain by Ricardo Montalban, and a little vicarious payback for one of them most hated men in America, the film turns out to be one of the best spoofs in recent memory…and something Nielsen could never match again, despite two sequels and numerous other attempts.
One note: if you were a big fan of “Police Squad!” when it was on the air (or have caught the show in reruns), this first film is largely a re-tread of sight gags used in the TV series, so don’t expect too many new jokes for this film. Still, The Naked Gun manages to turn a best of “Police Squad” (TV) montage into something that viewers will enjoy watching again and again, not just for the second time but for many more times to come.