Archive Review: The Naked Gun (1988)

A quick older review in honor of the late great Leslie Nielsen.

What started in 1977 with “Kentucky Fried Movie” continues again in “The Naked Gun,” a film version of the cop drama-mocking TV series “Police Squad!” only this time detective/cop films are the culprit, seemingly perfect fodder for spoofing and the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker one-two punch of subtle literalist deadpan and preposterous gags. The only real difference between this and 1980’s “Airplane!” is that Leslie Nielsen takes command of this film as opposed to an all-cast effort.

Nobody must be able to keep a straighter face than Nielsen. As Lt. Frank Drebin, the things he must do and say while remaining ignorant to their comedic value are absurd in quantity and quality. Drebin is when James Bond meets Inspector Clouseau — he’s completely oblivious yet he knows exactly what he’s doing. As contradictory as that sounds, it’s completely true. Nielsen does both incredible deadpan and slapstick, a highly specialized skill for a comedian, and unfortunately for the rest of Nielsen’s career, that’s all he really has. Nevertheless, it’s perfect for “The Naked Gun.”

Unlike “Airplane!,” this film has to be a bit more plot-focused because the cop/detective genre necessitates it. “Airplane!” could descend into utter chaos, whereas “The Naked Gun” feels obligated to make sense in some regard. All you need to know is that O.J Simpson’s character got shot and the investigation leads to the uncovering of a possible assassination attempt on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The challenge for the viewer is to forget making sense of what’s going on and pay attention to the small details that make these films even funnier. In some scenes this is easier than others and for the most part, the easier it is, the better “The Naked Gun” gets.

A lot of the time these are the laughs that make you smile inside instead of laugh out loud, but especially toward the end when the humor becomes more slapstick, “The Naked Gun” really takes off (pardon the “Airplane!” lingo). Another fun film from this team.

3.5/5 Stars

The Naked Gun (1988)
Directed by David Zucker
Written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Pat Proft
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, O.J. Simpson


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