Saturday, May 12, 2012

City Under Siege

The sixth POLICE ACADEMY movie in six years was the first not to open at number one at the box office; it opened second behind LEAN ON ME. It may also be the best of them all.

Its director, like the four who preceded him, was a veteran of TV sitcoms: Peter Bonerz, best known for playing Bob Newhart’s orthodontist friend on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. He and writer Stephen Curwick (POLICE ACADEMY 5) bring something to the table that’s unusual for a POLICE ACADEMY movie: an actual storyline, one that isn’t afraid to be completely silly with deathtraps, a mysterious criminal mastermind, and a Scooby-Doo ending, complete with an unmasking.

The precinct commanded by Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey) is being plagued by a trio of robbers who hit furriers, banks, and museums with ease. The crooks’ leader is a shadowy figure whose identity is a secret, but who may well be a mole in the police department. The mayor (Kenneth Mars, who worked with Bonerz in their improvisational comedy days) brings in a special outside task force: Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), Jones (Michael Winslow), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Fackler (Bruce Mahler, missing since Part 3), and Lassard’s nephew Nick (Matt McCoy, who joined the series in Part 5).

POLICE ACADEMY movies are difficult to defend, but I must admit much of the cartoony slapstick works for me on some primal level. While the jokes aren’t exactly fresh here, considering many of them are variations of other gags that have appeared in the series (how many times has something been glued to Captain Harris?), the energetic cast and professional direction make them work. Bringing back the klutzy Fackler allows Bonerz and his crew to engineer some creative Rube Goldberg sight gags straight out of the silents. While many cast members have little to do overall, they’re likable enough to engender laughs from material that probably looked weak on the page. During a martial arts fight scene, Jones convinces his opponent that he’s an unstoppable robot—a good bit that probably only Winslow could pull off.

Credit must be paid to the fine work done by CITY UNDER SIEGE’s veteran character actors. Mars (THE PRODUCERS) spices up his dialogue with deft wordplay gags likely based on one of his old improv characters. The always funny Gerrit Graham (USED CARS) shares good chemistry with his cohorts in crime (Brian Seeman and Darwin Swalve), and G.W. Bailey (later a regular on THE CLOSER), the butt of too many jokes to count in five POLICE ACADEMYs, is really very impressive, falling down, getting splashed with various substances, and embarrassing himself with dignity. Robert Folk, who scored the entire series, provides a diverse musical backdrop that embellishes the film’s comic-book tone.

I don’t want to praise POLICE ACADEMY 6 too highly; it is, after all, a cheaply produced slapstick comedy with a 6 in its title. It’s something of a throwback, however, to a Hollywood in which something this innocent could be produced. The PG film offers no profanity, sex, or scatological humor, relying on a more traditional approach to create its humor. There’s certainly no way anything like it could be made in the 21st century, and if a POLICE ACADEMY remake ever happens, it will likely look nothing like this movie. Also with George R. Robertson, Arthur Batanides, and Billie Bird. After a POLICE ACADEMY movie every year for six years, five more years would elapse before the final sequel.

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