Directed By: David Zucker
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, O.J. Simpson
Tag line: "You've read the ad, now see the movie!"
Trivia: The studio insisted on the casting of an Oscar winner in one of the major roles. This led to the casting of George Kennedy, who had been actively campaigning for the role of Ed Hocken for months
I was a big fan of Police Squad!, a television comedy that hit the U.S. airwaves in 1982, and was promptly canceled after only six measly episodes. Made by the same people who brought us Airplane!, Police Squad! was a laugh-riot, an all-out assault on the funny bone that never stopped to take a breath. So, when The Naked Gun, a movie based on this very same show, was released in 1988, I was more than a little anxious to see it.
When his partner, Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), is gunned down during a stake-out, Inspector Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielson) hits the streets to find those responsible. His investigation leads him to wealthy businessman Victor Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban), a respected member of the community and the man chosen by the Mayor (Nancy Marchand) to act as escort for Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) during her upcoming visit. Dreben is convinced Ludwig's up to no good, and soon uncovers a plot to assassinate the Queen, a plot concocted by none other than Ludwig himself. To complicate matters, Dreben's fallen in love with Ludwig's assistant, Jane (Priscilla Presley), who may or may not be trying to disrupt his investigation. Things come to a head when Dreben learns the attempt on the Queen's life will be made during her appearance at a Major League Baseball game, and that one of the players, under Ludwig's hypnotic control, is to be the assassin!
Of course, the above synopsis is little more than an excuse for The Naked Gun to bombard us with a plethora of jokes and sight gags, some of which are painfully dated. Take, for example, the entire pre-title sequence, where Dreben goes undercover to foil a terrorist plot hatched by a number of America's "enemies", including the Ayatollah Khomeini (Charles Gherardi), Yassar Arafat (David Katz) and Mikhail Gorbachev (David Lloyd Austin). I was watching the film with my sons, and had to explain to them who these people were (it even took me a minute or two to realize one was Idi Amin). But there are plenty of laughs to be found in The Naked Gun as well. When Dreben and his Lieutenant, Ed (George Kennedy) are on their way to the hospital to check in on the comatose Nordbert, Ed fills Dreben in on his partner's chances of pulling through. “The doctor's give Nordbert a 50 / 50 chance of living”, he says, “but there's only a 10% shot of that”. There's also a pretty funny scene in Ludwig's office, where Dreben has a violent run-in with a $20,000 fighting fish, and keep an eye out for the legendary John Houseman in his final screen appearance, playing a driving instructor whose vehicle is commandeered by Dreben in a clever take on the old “follow that car” routine. But the highlight of The Naked Gun occurs during the Major League Baseball game, when Dreben is forced to impersonate both a world-famous Opera singer and a home-plate umpire.
I definitely laughed throughout The Naked Gun, yet I couldn't shake the feeling the film was little more than an episode of Police Squad! padded out to feature film length, and though a fair number of the movie's jokes hit the mark, it's never as much fun as the show was.