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MOVIE REVIEW : Improvement Detected in 'Police Academy 5'

March 22, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Movie critics like sure things as much as anybody--and, nothing, recently, has seemed surer than the "Police Academy" series. Each year, like deranged clockwork, another awful "Police Academy" movie would hit the theaters.

But "Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach" (citywide) almost spoils the record. Despite the final escape of star Steve Guttenberg, and the loss, long since, of the original director and writers, this is almost a good movie. It's an incremental, heavily qualified success, but "PA 5" is an improvement on the elephantine, witless "2," "3" and "4."

In this outing, six ex-cadets and teachers--man mountain Hightower (Bubba Smith), gun-crazy Tackleberry (David Graf), super-stacked Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), human sound-effects lab Jones (Michael Winslow), Butterfly McQueen-voiced Hooks (Marion Ramsey) and blimp-torsoed House (Tab Thacker)--join their addle-brained, accident-prone Academy Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes) for a Miami police convention, which is Lassard's last fling before his retirement. The sad occasion has been engineered by nefarious martinet Lt. Harris (G. W. Bailey) and his bootlicking gunsel, Proctor (Lance Kinsey).

The jokes that new writer Stephen Curwick has invented for this overly familiar crowd are nothing special. He's tossed in blips and bleeps for Winslow, bosom gags for Easterbrook, Rambo breakdowns for Graf and Paul Bunyan exhibitions for Bubba Smith. (There's even a Guttenberg clone of sorts in Matt McCoy, as Lassard's affable nephew, Nick.) Anyone looking for novelty or mental stimulation is in the wrong theater. And if one of the previous directors--Hugh Wilson, Jerry Paris or Jim Drake--had handled it, the results might have been as lame and overblown as the last three "Academies."

But if "Police Academy 5" has most of the vices of its predecessors--broad stereotyping, incessant mugging and caterwauling, programmed mayhem--it has a few new virtues, too. The Miami backgrounds are voluptuously bright, and director Alan Myerson, a founder of the Committee, shows the skills a slapstick movie needs most: crisp timing and a lively sense of movement and physical design.

Myerson is ably abetted by two of his collaborators: editor Hubert De La Bouillerie, and actor Rene Auberjonois--as Tony Stark, a hyperbolic jewel thief with a hair-trigger temper, who keeps obsessively fondling his rug and browbeating his knuckleheaded thugs. Auberjonois' wired-up, phony machismo works particularly well against his seraphically oblivious kidnap victim, Gaynes.

By now, the academy has been cleaned up slightly; in this PG-rated outing, there are gags on flatulence but not sex acts. But, though it has amusing moments, they're not enough to wash out the guilt of the whole series. The first "Police Academy" probably spawned more bad movies than any other single film in recent memory: both its own atrocious sequels and an endless eruption of copycat occupational farces. This one probably isn't funny enough to extend the series indefinitely. But at least it proves that nothing in life is a sure thing.

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