Leslie Nielsen was once a serious actor. He starred in one of the most important science fiction films ever made, Forbidden Planet. He was a staple on the 1950’s television dramas. His unique features and voice made him a busy character actor all the way until the 1980’s. That’s when the cornball kings Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker cast him as the “don’t call me Shirley” Dr. Rumack in Airplane. From that moment on Nielsen went from being a serious actor to becoming the face of an entire comedy genre of corny films. If there was a subject to spoof throughout the 80’s and 90’s, you could count on Leslie Nielsen having a prominent role. Two years after Airplane he had a television series, for all of 6 episodes. It was a cop show spoof called Police Squad. In the show he stared as Detective Frank Drebin, a modern day Inspector Clouseau. He would bumble his way through the show’s unique cases, always finding a way to stumble on the solution. The only case he couldn’t crack was how to get people to watch the show. The brand of humor that Nielsen is now famous for has a very narrow niche. You either get it or you don’t. You either like it or you don’t, and most of America decidedly didn’t.
So what do you do with a miserably failed television show that ran just 6 episodes? You make it into a series of major motion pictures, that’s what you do. Six years after the series was gone and forgotten, the Abrahams/Zucker team decided to take it to the medium they’ve had so much success in already. What didn’t work at all on television appeared to have new life at the box office. The film brought in an impressive $79 million, which was a phenomenal number for a comedy in 1988. It went on to become the 8th highest grossing film of 1988. With a production budget of only about $20 million, this was a cash cow Paramount couldn’t afford to milk. They did indeed go to the well twice more, with the bottom falling out on the third try. The audiences loved it, but they could only take so much.
In this film the Police Squad unit is assigned to protect the visiting Queen Elizabeth of England. Frank is on to a plot to kill her and must match wits with the rich evil Ludwig played by Ricardo Montalban, enjoying a career resurgence himself courtesy of his Star Trek appearance. The film is also notable for including in its diverse cast O.J. Simpson, in the days before he became a societal pariah. The jokes are harmless enough, but this style isn’t the kind of stuff you can watch over and over again as evidenced by the quick demise of both the television series and the film franchise. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s worth a rent, but there’s nothing in this “I Love The 80’s” disc that would compel you to buy it again.
The Naked Gun is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This transfer is not a very good one. I’m not sure what this disc has to offer over the previous release. It’s the same grainy dull transfer already seen before. Colors are a little bit better than some of these “I Love The 80’s” rehashes, but black levels and sharpness suffer. What’s worse is that this is a terribly dated film, and this transfer doesn’t help matters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track might as well have been in mono. There isn’t anything beyond the dialog to this film anyway. Don’t expect a very dynamic sound field. Dialog is fine, and really that’s all you need here. Again this is no different from the previous release.
There is an Audio Commentary hosted by Peter Tilden featuring director David Zucker. They laugh a bit and it might be fun listening to them reminisce.
This was a huge comedy in 1988 and so likely deserves inclusion in a celebration of 1980’s comedy films. I’m just not on board with such blatant cash grabs. Give us some extras, or at least clean up the transfers a bit. Instead, it’s clear Paramount wishes to get as much money out of us as they can without spending a wooden nickel to give us something for the cash. Why not at least include some 1980’s retrospect to put the films in some kind of context for us? I’m waiting for a nostalgic release slate that includes some effort into giving us more bang for our buck. “There’s only a 10% chance of that.”