Monday, May 07, 2012

Even The Bad Guys Die Laughing

Well, if the Onion AV Club can do a POLICE ACADEMY Week, so can I! And I'm starting with a review I previously posted here early last year.

The first of seven POLICE ACADEMY comedies in ten years is the only one to carry an R rating. Obviously influenced by STRIPES and other slob comedies of the period, director/co-writer Hugh Wilson made POLICE ACADEMY his directorial debut after creating the terrific WKRP IN CINCINNATI and penning the awful STROKER ACE. Joining him on the screenplay were BACHELOR PARTY writer/director Neal Israel and Pat Proft, a veteran of POLICE SQUAD and many TV variety shows. The result is a silly stick-it-to-the-Man farce that made Warner Brothers a ton of money and Steve Guttenberg a major movie star.

After local government drops minimum height, weight, and other physical requirements to join the police force, a bunch of lovable screwups sign up to become cops. Among them are the gun-happy Tackleberry (David Graf, who later died of a heart attack at age 50), hulking Hightower (footballer Bubba Smith), human sound effect Jones (standup comic Michael Winslow), mousy-voiced Hooks (Marion Ramsey), clumsy Fackler (Bruce Mahler), and uppercrust Karen Thompson (Kim Cattrall, whose previous film was PORKY’S). Their unofficial leader is grinning smartass Carey Mahoney (Guttenberg), who defends them against dictatorial sergeant Harris (G.W. Bailey) and befuddled commandant Lassard (George Gaynes), who have orders from the chief to weed out the undesirables.

POLICE ACADEMY is structured like STRIPES, starting with the characters’ introductions, moving on to their training, and climaxing with a mission in which they put their new skills into action, namely quashing a big riot. Wilson’s budget and the Toronto locations don’t offer much of a riot, however, and the cadets’ big chore is little more than taking down one psycho with a pistol. Considering how popular it is, POLICE ACADEMY isn’t really very funny, but it’s amusing, and the cast is affable enough. Guttenberg is actually charming here—he became somewhat smarmy in his later films—and Cattrall (SEX & THE CITY) has little to do but be cute.

The R-rated material is extremely tame, and POLICE ACADEMY may qualify for a PG-13 today—not uncommon for a studio comedy of the era. Warners made a sequel every year through 1989 and another in 1994. There was also an animated TV series and a syndicated sitcom. Winslow is the only cast member to appear in all of them. Guttenberg left after number 4.

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