I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. With conditions as they are, shopping won’t be easy this season. The nice thing about discs is that they’re so easy to get from places like Amazon that you can give a great gift and stay perfectly safe while you do it. This spotlight looks at Shout Factory’s release of the entire Police Academy film collection all in one Blu-ray collection. You have the right to laugh your tush off, and you can give that right to one or more members of your Christmas list.
It all started with the film The Right Stuff. Paul Maslansky was the man who had come up with the original film concept based on the bestselling book. He was also a producer on the film. When they were filming the big tickertape parade for John Glenn, they need a tremendous amount of police presence for the scene. They hired all of the off-duty cops they could and still needed more. So the department brought out cadets from the Police Academy. Maslansky was shocked at how inept they were and asked the commander of the post about them. He was told they were cadets and the result of the mayor needing to open up hiring requirements because of lawsuits. Maslansky claims that night he started writing the seeds of what would be Police Academy. The result was seven feature films, a television series that ran two seasons, and an animated series. When the first film arrived, it was the biggest box office comedy up until that time. A ton of actors would go on to better renown following stints in the franchise, most notably names like Sharon Stone, David Spade, and Kim Catrell. Thanks to Shout Factory, your gift will allow someone to relive all of the best … and the worst … the film franchise had to offer.
Police Academy (1984)
“On March 4th of this year … newly elected Mayor Mary Sue Beal announced that she was changing the hiring practices of this city’s police force. No longer would height, weight, sex, education, or physical strength be used to keep new recruits out of the Metropolitan Police Academy. Hundreds of people who never dreamed of becoming police officers signed up immediately. Naturally, the police completely freaked.”
Maslansky originally developed the idea for Michael Keaton to star and Dom Deluise to direct. Today that really feels like an odd choice, but the idea went through many hands before Maslansky decided to give a shot to a television director/creator with no feature film experience. That man was Hugh Wilson, who gave us WKRP In Cincinnati. No question he knew how to create the kind of quirky characters that would populate the first film with many of them, and many like them populated the entire franchise. In the first film we get introduced to most of them.
Steve Guttenberg was the star. He played Carey Mahoney. He was the typical smart-aleck. His father was a respected officer, and other officers on the force tried to protect him, but he finally goes too far and is given an ultimatum. He can join the Police Academy or go to jail. Obviously, Mahoney picks the Police Academy, where he figures he can get himself thrown out by 10:00 AM … make that noon. The trouble with the plan happens to be the new recruitment regs listed above. Academy Commandant Lassard is in charge. He was originally going to be played by Leslie Nielsen, who would get to play a spoof cop just four years later in the Naked Gun franchise. The job went to George Gaynes, who would be one of the few actors to appear in all seven films. He was incompetent to a fault, but he had a bright outlook and a heart of gold. His assistant was Lt. Harris, played by M*A*S*H recurring actor.
G.W. Bailey. Bailey would parlay this run of films into many roles that soon got him out of the shadow of a small character on a huge television comedy to roles that would eventually land him several years as the wise, but still ornery detective Provenza on The Closer, which later became Major Crimes. It was a great show, and he was the best actor on the run. Interestingly, his acting partner for years there would be Tony Denisen as Detective Andy Flynn, who turned down the Harris role, leading Bailey into it. Now the problem Lassard and Harris had was that they weren’t allowed to expel any of these misfit cadets, but they could make their lives miserable enough to get them to quit … all except Mahoney, who couldn’t quit and couldn’t get thrown out. For Mahoney he’d eventually start to care and become an emotional rock for the misfits while he was in the films.
Football star Bubba Smith played cadet/officer Moses Hightower. He didn’t say much. He just allowed his intimidating frame and strength do the work. Smith often complained that he didn’t get a lot of lines and often thought of himself as a piece of furniture until Wilson told him he was a piece of furniture that everyone else had to walk around.
David Graf played cadet/officer Tackleberry. This is the character least likely to be acceptable today. He was gung-ho and loved carrying and shooting big guns. He was a Dirty Harry wannabe. He was a security guard before signing up, and everyone in his office building was terrified of him. I loved the character, and he’s one of my favorite to this day. Unfortunately, Graf had a bit of a tragic life and passed away young at just 50 years of age less than a decade after the last Police Academy film. He made a mark on television in those last years, appearing on several versions of Star Trek, particularly Deep Space Nine, where he stood out as Leskit and carried over to several of that franchise’s video games.
Leslie Easterbrook played the well-endowed Sgt/Capt. Callahan. In this first film she started out as one of the tough instructors working mostly as Harris’s henchwoman, but later she evolved into being part of the misfit team with her loyalties completely on their side. She was there for all of the sex jokes but became a more substantial character as the franchise moved on.
Marion Ramsey played Cadet/Officer Hooks. She was a rotund woman with a meek and mousey voice. The running joke on her character was that squeaky voice that had power at the most unexpected times. She was the main target of Harris’s abuse.
Finally there was Michael Winslow, who played Jones. Jones wasn’t a part of the original script, but was added after a recommendation from Mel Brooks. Winslow appeared in Spaceballs as a radar technician, but it wasn’t his acting chops that got him either job. Brooks was impressed by the crazy amount of sounds Winslow could reproduce with his voice. He created all of those spaceship sounds, and Brooks credited him with saving the film’s budget over $100,000 in audio production. Wilson heard him, and they created a part for him that stuck through the films television and animated shows. I must confess he’s always been the most memorable part of the franchise. You literally have to hear him to believe him. There was a danger of overdoing the shtick, but I think they didn’t use him enough. He hardly said or did anything else, but he always got the biggest laughs from me.
Other characters get introduced here that are minor in nature and appear in a few films. Kim Cattrell plays cadet Karen Thompson, who is the target of Mahoney’s advances. She got big rather quickly and never returned. Of course, we all know her now from Sex And The City. Bruce Mahler was Fackler, a henpecked husband with little self-confidence, and Andrew Rubin played the Don Juan with a fake accent, George Martin, who always had a handful of babes by his side … until a night with Callahan, of course.
The cadets would somehow get through the training. A sudden riot finds the force putting them on duty before they graduate, and the results are what you might expect. Otherwise the film is loaded with antics, practical jokes on authority, and the sheer power of a good collection of characters and situations. One of the most famous from the first film involves real porn film star Georgina Spelvin as a hooker at a podium. ‘Nuff said there.
Harris always had some kind of toadies to help him sabotage the misfits and Lassard. He always thought he was the man who should be in charge, and in this film it’s Scott Thompson as Copeland and Brant Van Hoffman as Blankes. They were supposed to report the dirt on the misfits, and they end up as part of one of the franchise’s best running gags in the early films. That’s the Blue Oyster Bar, which is a Village People-styled leather gay bar. Can’t image you could get away with this today but … why? I know quite a few gay folks who also found it hilarious. Oh well. Fortunately, a set like this allows us to indulge even when others don’t think we should be allowed to. Own it, and no streaming service can pull or edit it. It’s yours forever … or whoever’s tree you slide it up under. Who’s going to complain? “Not a soul.”
Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)
“The city is a dangerous place. The graduates of Police Academy, Class of ’84, are a determined group of men and women ready for their first assignment. Is the city ready for them?”
The first film did great box office, breaking records, and it was pretty much a sure thing that there would be a second. To save money on the budget, the shooting location of the first film was moved to Toronto, Canada. This time it was all brought back to L.A., but it killed the budget, and the script suffered some cutbacks. Fortunately, most of the cast was eager to return. The notable exceptions were G.W. Bailey, who had a schedule conflict but did make a quick cameo at a wedding scene at the end of the film. The other was Leslie Easterbrook, who was pregnant during the production. Hugh Wilson was not available to direct, so the job went to Jim Signorelli, who was pretty much known for his work on Saturday Night Live. For three weeks the shoot was a disaster. There were a lot of shooting delays, the budget was out of control, and he was having a lot of fights with Maslansky and others. He was fired, and Jerry Paris was brought in. Paris was most notable for The Dick Van Dyke Show where he was the dentist neighbor to Rob (Van Dyke) and Laura (Moore), but his most important contributions came behind the camera where he directed 84 episodes of the show. He was so good and beloved that he would go on to work on The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and almost 300 episodes of Happy Days and The Odd Couple. He’s one of the most popular television comedy names too many people never heard of.
“You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a court-appointed attorney. You have the right to sing the blues. You have the right to cable TV… that’s very important. You have the right to sublet. You have the right to paint the walls … no loud colors.
The misfits have now graduated and are ready to take their place among the city’s finest. That opportunity is about to come their way. Pete Lassard, played by WKRP’s finest, Howard Hesseman, has a serious problem. He’s captain of the 16th Precinct, where crime is going through the roof. There’s a gang of punks taking over the streets, and the Commissioner has given him just 30 days to clean up the mess, or he’s out. He turns to his brother, Commandant Lassard (Gaynes) at the academy to see if he can send him some sharp new blood to try to bring it all under control. Of course, Lassard sends his “best”: Mahoney (Guttenberg), Jones (Winslow), Hightower (Smith), Hooks (Ramsey), Fackler (Mahler), and Tackleberry (Graf). Enter Lt. Mauser, played by Art Metrano, who pretty much takes up the Harris slack in the film. He sees his own golden opportunity here. If he can sabotage the new team, Captain Lassard gets the boot, and he becomes the new guy in charge. His toadie is Officer Proctor, played by Lance Kinsey. He offers him the job of Watch Commander after he gets to be Captain. That means you can expect Proctor to get to know those leather-clad guys at the Blue Oyster Bar pretty well.
On the other side of things, the leader of the bad guys is an unstable guy named Zed, played by Bob Goldthwait, and he’s pretty much what you expect from the stand-up’s routine. He’s insecure and more than a little crazy. He has been particularly trying to shake down a local shy merchant, played by Tim Kazurinsky. The two of them share some great chemistry, and it’s going to carry on for another couple of films, but with an entirely different result. Meanwhile Mauser is trying to make the misfits look bad by pairing them with odd partners that don’t turn out so odd. Tackleberry gets put on motorcycle patrol with Kirkland, played by Coleen Camp. She turns out to be just as weapon-crazy as he is, and the two fall in love and get married by the end of the film. Mahoney is paired with Vinnie, played by Peter Van Norden, who makes Oscar Madison look like Adrian Monk. The guy is a mess. But it all backfires, and the team does well enough when Mahoney goes undercover to get Zed and his gang. Along the way Mauser is the butt of the kinds of jokes we saw pulled on him. He loses his eyebrows and suffers other bodily indignities along the way.
Howard Hesseman did the job as a favor to Hugh Wilson even though Wilson was no longer directly involved. The result was that he had a horrible time, and it shows. He spent the rest of his life ranting about it being the worst acting job of his life, and he refused future films in the franchise. I really don’t get it. It’s not like Johnny Fever was a character of deep thought and serious acting requirements. The film did well, and the franchise was secure for another film or two or four. “Sounds awfully tempting.”
Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986)
“Yeah, I used to be a big A-hole , but now I’m a real people person.”
Jerry Parris came back, and the plan was for him to shoot a fourth film back to back with this one. Filming was moved back to Toronto because it was just too much drain on the budget to be in L.A., and another savings would be to try to get two films out of the same shoot. It’s done today. It can be a real money saver if you’re sure there’s a demand enough for another film. That wasn’t the trouble. Jerry Paris was ill and just did not have the stamina to do two films at once. In fact, he ended up dying just 10 days after the film was released. He would not have likely survived the extra time to do two films, and neither film might have been completed before he passed. It was a big loss for the franchise and for the industry.
Blanks (von Hoffman) and Copeland (Thomas) are back, this time working for Mauser (Metrano), who still wants to be put in charge. While Mauser did not get the Captain job he wanted, he was put in charge of one of the city’s police academies. Yes, it turns out there are two. But budgets are getting tight everywhere, and the Governor announces that one of the schools will be closed after this class graduates, and only one will remain. Mauser intends to be the Commandant standing. Again he’s stepping in for the Harris character and G.W. Bailey, who would return for good in the next film. There’s a brand new crop of misfit recruits coming to the academy including the last film’s gang leader Bob Goldthwait’s Zed character and his favorite target, Tim Kazurinsky’s merchant, who now has a name: Sweetchuck. The two continue to share wonderful chemistry, and I think it’s such a shame they didn’t continue for more films than they made. It’s a challenging group of cadets, so Lassard (Gaynes) decides to bring his old misfit team back to help with the training. The gang has kind of come full circle, and the film takes us back to where it all started … back to school. There’s nothing new here; it’s about sabotage and the bad guy taking some pratfalls while the characters do the things that make them each who they are. There’s a fancy Policeman’s Ball, where Mauser sucks up to the Governor and his wife while trying to point out the mistakes of the other guys. It’s straight suck-up stuff here.
It’s the final day of the competition, and the officers are paired up and sent out on real calls to show what they’ve learned. Meanwhile the Governor is holding a regatta as a political , and it’s attacked by bad guys, and guess who comes through with the save? You guessed it.
Jerry Paris added a lot to the franchise, and I feel like this was the last of the better films. From here the franchise starts to either repeat itself or reach for more gimmicks to try to bring in the laughs. This might have been the last of the simple days. From here they try to add too many distractions to cover a lack of new good ideas. “You see this ear? It’s a finely tuned crap detector.”
Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987)
“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!”
This would be the final film with a large number of the original cast still intact. G.W. Bailey returns to his Harris role, this time stealing Mauser’s main henchman, Proctor, and the two would work together going forward. This was also the film with the largest budget, and it shows in the film’s finale, which has a full-on sky chase and antics show with hot air balloons and biplanes. There are tons of stunts, and a lot of those visuals took over for some of the character moments. That would really be the formula going forward. While it’s not really what we watched these films to see, I will admit that the finale stunts were pretty impressive and well done for a fourth entry in a comedy franchise. It was supposed to be another Jerry Paris film, but his death led to Jim Drake getting the gig. You can certainly feel the shift in tone from the previous films. Drake was mostly a television director with very few feature films, this being his most notable.
This would be David Spade’s first credit. He was a teen at the time, and it sure is a bit of a shock if you’re only used to his later projects. He ended up failing the audition for the role, but it turned out that he was a pretty good skateboarder, and the part called for a lot of skateboard stunts. While experts like Tony Hawk did provide stunts for the film, Spade was able to do a lot of the stuff. It was enough to get him the gig, and it’s a pretty fun part. Of course, Spade went on to such a nice career that this might just be a speedbump to most fans. It’s also an early film for Sharon Stone, who plays reporter Claire Mattson, who would become the last girl chased by Mahoney. In fact there are a ton of “lasts” in this film.
“I saw this on Hill Street Blues.”
Lassard has come up with another of his ideas. He believes the police are overworked and decides it’s time to get the citizens involved in crime fighting. He creates the Citizens On Patrol unit and once again calls the misfits into service. It’s their job to train ordinary citizens much like classes of cadets so that they can help patrol the streets of their own neighborhoods. Of Course, Harris decides it’s a terrible idea and attempts to sabotage with Proctor as his toadie. The film leads up to that air spectacular I talked about at the beginning. Except for that outstanding finale it’s more of the same. Harris’s attempts to kill the program backfire and he’s the butt of more crazy practical jokes. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. “Make sure we never meet again…ever.”
Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami (1988)
“I can vouch for the abilities of these officers. After all, I trained them myself.”
Steve Guttenberg had had enough. He didn’t know how good he had it, but he passed on the film and let the crew know he wasn’t interested in any future films in the franchise. It’s ironic, because he came to regret the move. It was a nice steady gig with good pay and recognition. Now he’s the most vocal about putting some kind of a reboot out there. Taking his place would be Matt McCoy playing Nick, yet another member of the Lassard family.
The film opens with Harris combing the police files to dig up dirt on Lassard so that he can take over. Some dreams just die hard. What he finds is that Lassard has passed the mandatory retirement age, and that fact has gone unnoticed … until now. At the same time Lassard has been invited to Miami Beach where the Police Captains Association has named him Officer of the Decade. He decides to bring his misfit team with him to help celebrate. Harris decides to go as well so that he can appear to be a big man and help celebrate his old boss. He’s been told that one thing holding him back from promotion is that he isn’t very likable. So he books a private flight to Miami, which is punked by Jones and Hightower so that he ends up on a shabby plane with farm animals, all the while thinking he was going to arrive in class and style.. At the airport Lassard ends up accidentally switching bags with Tony, a television cutout wise guy who robbed a diamond exchange and is bringing the stones to his boss in Miami. They’re hidden in a camera in the bag. They did this same bit on Sanford And Son back in the 70’s. When Tony, played incredibly well by Rene Auberjonois, ends up on the boss’s yacht, the bag contains Lassard’s goldfish bowl and fish. He’s got 24 hours to get the diamonds back, or he’s going to be sleeping with more than a goldfish. Auberjonois is perfectly cast here as the slick wise guy who thinks he’s smarter than anyone else. But Lassard ends up slipping away every time. Finally he pulls a full kidnap and takedown at the police convention, but Lassard plays along because he thinks it’s all an act, a demonstration orchestrated in his honor. And while the misfits try to rescue their leader, Harris keeps throwing up roadblocks hoping he’ll be the hero of the day. Of course, it backfires, and Auberjonois gets all the juicy stuff this time. Even McCoy as Miami detective Nick Lassard just can’t keep up with Guttenberg’s shtick.
Now the guest bad guys are starting to upstage the misfits and the police bad guys. The Miami settings add a touch of spice to the film, as they were trying to latch on to the Miami Vice trend that was huge at the time. They break the franchise rules a bit here. “It’s OK to break the law for a good reason, like a note from your doctor or your mother.”
Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989)
“Fighting is one thing, but bad jokes is where I draw the line!”
Paul Maslansky had a pretty original idea for the time. He decided that he wanted to go out on location once again with the franchise. He wanted to take the franchise to the Soviet Union. After months of getting shut down, he decided to go for a more traditional entry. That gem of an idea would not go away, however, and would be the premise for the next and final film in the series. Of the theatrically released films, this one brought in the least box office, and it was getting clear that the idea just might have run its course and this would be the final Police Academy movie … so far … to be released widely in theaters.
Harris has finally made captain of his own precinct. But he’s soon in hot water when a crime wave threatens his leadership. He decides to set an example and go undercover with Proctor to break the crime wave himself, ever the hero. The film’s best scene has him bragging about his skills to Proctor in the undercover car while the crooks take down a business right under their noses. Proctor keeps trying to call his attention to the crooks, who are mocking them, but Harris refuses to be interrupted when he’s bragging.
There are three hoods pulling off these crimes, and even they don’t know who the big boss is. He’s a shadow in a basement where he gives them his orders and brags a bit like Harris. It appears that there is a leak, because the boss appears to always be one step ahead of the police. You just know who is going to get called in to assist with the crimes. That’s right. The misfits are back in action and once again Harris is going to try to make them look bad while falling flat on his face at every turn. There’s pretty much a rework of most of the same gags and a big reveal at the end that makes Harris look like an idiot once again.
All around this film underperformed, but the gang insisted they had another one left in the tank. Trust us, they say. This one is going to be good. “We believe you guys, so we won’t dispute you. But if you’re lying to us, we’ll come back and shoot you. Word!”
Police Academy: Mission To Moscow (1994)
“The red zone is for communist parking only!”
To finish the franchise, Maslansky got what he wanted. He got permission to film in the Soviet Union. But they say you should be careful what you wish for. The timing could not have been worse. Filming got shut down for a while when Boris Yeltsin led a coup to take down Gorbachev. The coup ended up less violent than it could have been, and when Yeltsin was firmly in power, the production continued. The film went direct to video and somehow snagged two pretty big names to play in a playpen that was pretty much overdrawn at the bank. Christopher Lee and Ron Perlman both took on roles. Lee never talked much about it, and when I met him once and asked, he merely laughed the moment off. Perlman liked to joke about doing the film, and so what? Most of the original crew were gone by now. Bubba Smith was scripted in the film but refused to participate when he learned Marion Ramsey would not be invited back. You pretty much have Tackleberry and Jones running the show.
There’s been a crime wave in Moscow, and Christopher Lee has invited Lassard and his team to come to Russia and help put a stop to it. Behind the crime wave is mobster Konstantine Konali (Perlman). He appears to have gone straight and released a video game that is taking the world by storm. Of course, it’s a ploy to hack all the world’s computers through a virus in the game. Notable newcomer Charlie Schlatter plays cadet Connors, who is about to wash out at the academy. But he wants to go on the trip, so he hacks the police computers and puts himself on the list for the trip, which later helps because of his computer skills. He’s kind of the last version of Steve Guttenberg’s character, because he’s just as much a lazy ladies’ man himself. Most of you might remember Schlatter as young Doctor Jesse from Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder. Connors spends most of the trip trying to impress the team’s Moscow translation officer the attractive Katrina, played by Claire Forlani. Forlani is best known for Dr. Driscoll in CSI: N.Y. You won’t see much of Lassard. He gets in the wrong car at the airport and spends the entire film with some random Russian family who also have a fishbowl goldfish. He thinks they’re part of the delegation, but they don’t have a clue either. Harris spends a long time trying to find him and catches glimpses when Lassard is out with his Russian family. The Russians are afraid something bad happened to him, and they hire a silly bellhop to stay in his apartment and yell that he’s in the bathroom when anyone comes looking for Lassard.
Of course, Lassard appears just in time to take down the bad guy,, and the team is once again a team of heroes. And that’s the end of the franchise.
The collection comes with a bonus disc that has many hours’ worth of extras including about three hours of brand new features looking back on the franchise. There’s a lot to take in here, and it will keep someone busy for days. Trust me, it certainly kept me busier than I expected. There is always talk of a reboot, and one of our writers here at Upcomingdiscs was involved in a draft back in 2015. For now there is plenty here for that comedy fan on your list. The longer it takes for something like this to return the greater the chance of disappointment. “No matter how much you wait and hope and wait more, you don’t get what you want!”