Intrepid, trigger-happy idiot-sleuth Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) has retired at the behest of perpetual love interest, now Mrs. Drebin, Jane (Priscilla Presley). Although he has embraced his new role as "house husband" with gusto, frictions have arisen at home, and secretly Frank longs to
return to shooting people and smashing cars. An opportunity to do so arises when Drebin's former cronies, the endearingly earnest Ed (George Kennedy) and clumsy Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), ask him to do some undercover work to help catch a mad bomber who's planning an outrageous act of terrorism.
Drebin jumps at the offer, infiltrating a sperm bank to get the lowdown on busty bombshell Tanya (Anna Nicole Smith), the bomber's girlfriend. Drebin's return to police work, however, brings the marital strife to a climax, and Jane walks out.
The bomber, Rocco (Fred Ward), has been planning his big job from prison, and so Drebin goes inside to flush Rocco out. Aiding Rocco's escape, he joins the bomber and his mom (the delightfully hideous Kathleen Freeman) at Tanya's lakeside hideout. Jane surprises Drebin and Tanya in a
compromising position, but Drebin protects her from Rocco by suggesting that she be kept as a hostage. They're soon off to Hollywood, where the bomber plans to cap the Oscar ceremonies with the world's biggest letter bomb. Drebin's attempts to prevent the Academy Awards from turning into a
disaster have precisely the opposite effect, as he wrestles Raquel Welch to the ground, slugs Phil Donohue, and generally causes mayhem in his search for the envelope containing the explosive. Ultimately, however, Drebin saves the day, and of course the bad guys get nailed.
Of the NAKED GUN films, 33 1/3 is the most successful in capturing the breakneck genre parody that marked the short-lived but critically acclaimed "Police Squad" TV series (which won Nielsen his only Emmy). Taking broad pot shots at everything from THELMA & LOUISE to THE CRYING GAME, and
culminating with a breathless swipe at the sacred cow of the movie industry, the Academy Awards (Richard Attenborough's musical based on the life of Mother Teresa is up for Best Picture; Mary Lou Retton faces Florence Henderson for Best Actress), every conceivable stock scene and hoary cliche has
been pilloried with exuberance and winning charm. Zucker is at his best layering wild variations on routine tracking shots: a walk through a prison yard segues from basketball games to swing sets to pole vaulting (over the wall!).
Towering above the silliness is the stolid, immutable Nielsen, stoically trashing every hardball cop he ever played in his lengthy career as Generic Tough Guy. He holds the film together, finessing throw-away lines like, "I like sex the way I play basketball--one on one and with as little
dribbling as possible." It's Nielsen's willingness to play along with any crazy situation in which he finds himself, and to play it with utter sincerity, that seduces the viewer into staying with scattershot material that misses nearly as often as it hits.
The film never quite regains the energy of its outstanding opening sequence (tweaking De Palma's UNTOUCHABLES railroad-station sequence, which itself mirrored Eisenstein's POTEMKIN). The parody of THELMA & LOUISE goes nowhere, and there are a few gratuitous cameos that are largely wasted
opportunities (including a sad misuse of the incomparably nasty Randall "Tex" Cobb). Much of the sexual humor is pointedly adolescent, and occasionally homophobic. More distressingly, the Zucker films have been showing an unhappy tendency toward racial and ethnic stereotyping, particularly "Evil
Arab Terrorists" and "foreign" cab drivers (although such caricatures are so broadly rendered that they might be read as clownish lampoons of Hollywood stereotyping).
At any rate, Zucker's films are about movies, and could have no more appropriate apotheosis than Drebin's scorched-earth assault on the Oscars. And any film that can resurrect Pia Zadora from obscurity, if only to plunk a tuba on her head and toss her off a stage, deserves some kind of award.
(Mild profanity, violence, sexual situations.) leave a comment
David Zucker returns to the coffee- and blood-stained files of the Police Squad for this, the third and possibly funniest of the NAKED GUN spoofs.