The 1988 Leslie Nielsen comedy is back on the shelves in a brand new box. But instead of the iconic cop-riding-the-bullet image, this home version features our hero sitting down next to a beaver. It makes you wonder, is that indicative of the release? The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a classic. Either you grew up with it and love it, or you and I are different ages. It’s a comic staple, an institution...but is it good? Well, it’s in high definition now thanks to Best Buy’s exclusive release. Let’s see whether or not the other retailers are missing out.
The Naked Gun opens in a foreign land where a long table is surrounded by evildoers who would make Adam West’s Batman go running for the Batcopter. These guys are the real deal. Instead of jokers like The Joker or the slippery Penguin, this company of criminals includes Arafat, Khadafi, Gorbachev, and Idi Amin. Who could save us from a threat of this ilk? Maybe Christian Bale Batman? I don’t know, "no jurisdiction" or not, Beirut is pretty far from Gotham. But then it happens: the man serving the tea reveals himself to be none other than Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen)! With a well-placed hot-tea-pot-on-the-hand maneuver and a good scrub of Gorbachev’s “birthmark,” this lieutenant from Police Squad takes them all down. We’re clearly in for an adventure.
The trailer promises “O.J. Simpson as you’ve never seen him before” -- it’s an interesting phenomenon that happens here, because depending on your age, you either knew him as a football star or an alleged murderer, but not as Nordberg the accident-prone cop. His opening scene has some of the best gags of the film and also introduces us to the villainous Vincent Ludwig, played by Ricardo Montalban. Interestingly enough, Montalban plays him pretty straight, as opposed to the more melodramatic villains that he’s known for, such as Star Trek’s Kahn.
Investigating the attack on Norberg, Drebin meets the lovely Jane Spencer, who works for Ludwig. Priscilla Presley plays this love interest with brilliant simplicity. The plot thickens, as they tend to do, when Frank uncovers that Ludwig is planning to kill Queen Elizabeth II at a baseball game. And as its Randy Newman song can attest to, it’s one of the best third acts in movie history.
The Naked Gun is a goofball, but it’s our goofball. It has pee jokes, beaver jokes, rolling-around-in-giant-condoms jokes, and it still remains a class act. It’s refreshing to see a comedy from a time when gross-out gags wore a suit and there wasn’t any CGI to hide behind. This is comedy, not the old-fashioned way, but the honest way. For comedy, I’ll take a gymnast doing cartwheels in a wig over a digital head replacement any day. Maybe it’s not as uproarious as Airplane!, but airplanes can fly, so who can blame a cop for being a little more grounded? Did I thoroughly enjoy every second of this film? Maybe not this past viewing, but I’ve loved it since 1988, so which is more important? If you’ve seen this movie countless times maybe it’s getting a little dusty, but if you’ve never had a ride along with Leslie Nielsen and the hilarious George Kennedy, do yourself a favor, hit the siren, and ride the lights. Besides the box being spectacularly decked out with a hologram, there’s not much flair inside. What we have is a theatrical trailer and a commentary by writer/director David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and Peter Tilden. This commentary, though available on a previous release, is amazing. It’s as entertaining as the film itself and provides great insight and historical context. It even points out cultural references that people watching it after 1988 might not get. O.J.’s “situation” is addressed, and fantastically so.
The sound and image quality is fine, but on the lower end of fine. I don’t know if I expect every older film to look fantastic, but if the first DVD of Apocalypse Now can look like it was shot this week, then perhaps there’s an argument that Naked Gun could look better on Blu-Ray than this. It’s totally acceptable as a copy of the film but it’s not a presentation that's going to impress fans. As the commentary reveals, there are a substantial number of deleted scenes and even an alternate ending, but none of these appear on this disc. Also, I can only assume there are heaps of rights issues in the way, but a look at Police Squad!, the show on which the movie is based, would have been great.
There are a lot of comedy nerds out there, and we all want to learn about the films that informed our sense of humor when we were kids. The Naked Gun is one of the greats, but this Blu-Ray release feels a little naked.
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