Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Fifty-seven - The Naked Gun, "Is anyone ELSE here sleeping with this man's wife?"

While it's fairly safe to admit that, when the series wore on, the humor got stale, the villains trite, and the gags less than fresh, the original Naked Gun still brings it home and is definitely the best of the three. There's just something about the way it remains innocent and not too self-aware and winking at the audience... something that it overdid in its sequels.

Nominally set in Los Angeles, the home of the Police Squad series that spawned it, The Naked Gun begins with a cold opener in Beirut where the leaders of the enemies of America are all conveniently in one room. Where Hot Shots played it safe and only went after Saddam, TNG manages to corral Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeni, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, and Gorbachev into a Star-Spangled fantasy sequence of American Kick-Ass Exceptionalism... where Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) pummels them mercilessly for plotting against us.


It's a farce, but also a sign of the times as Cold War fears were beginning to fade in the era of Glasnost. (It's also hilarious that, when Frank runs out of Dictators to beat on, generic white guy stuntmen in cheap suits begin to show up).

Anyways, past the cold opener we're treated to OJ Simpson getting nearly murdered as many ways as possible, almost as if it were a comedic recreation of the Death of Rasputin (or Vigo the Carpathian). I must admit, it feels a little cathartic in light of his track record in later years.

It seems Nordberg (Simpson) stumbled onto one of arch-villain Ludwig's (Ricardo Montalban) criminal plots and Khan wanted the bumbling officer rubbed out. Unfortunately for Ludwig, it only puts Frank and the Police Squad onto his trail. This leads to an investigation where Frank meets the love of his life... who is played by Priscilla Presley, a wholesome secretary who is inadvertently caught up in Ludwig's plot to kill Queen Elizabeth at a baseball game.

It's all silly fun laced with innuendo, sight gags, and pratfalls... not quite the loving send up to Noir that Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid was, but also not a soulless, dime-a-dozen parody movie of the likes that have been churned out the past twenty years or so. It's hard to imagine how anyone survives in this universe, where airbags cause cars to careen wildly on their own and alleged real life murderers can survive dozens of shots (and burns and a bear trap).

I really love Ricardo Montalban... he's always a good villain and had a tremendous sense of melodrama, always playing it straight even when he delivered the hammiest of lines. And, as ever, there's always something to be said about Leslie Nielsen. From Forbidden Planet on up to his late career (which was almost all comedy and parody), Nielsen had the greatest of deadpan faces and his timing was always the best.

Rest in peace, the both of you.

Quick shout out to George Kennedy, whom we last saw on Couchbound in Charade. He does a terrific job as the Captain playing the pseudo-straight man to Drebin. I love the bit at the state dinner where Frank picks his pocket and an innocent party goer is accused of sleeping with the Captain's wife!

All in all, The Naked Gun is classic Zucker Bros. comedy while they (and their regular players) were in their prime... something that's more than a rarity nowadays. It's not as great as, say, Airplane... but it comes pretty close. And, man, that death scene for Montalban at the end? It just slays me. Especially when the marching band starts playing "Louie, Louie."

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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