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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Naked Gun' Fires Away With Gags, Laughs

December 02, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

Some movies make you laugh. Some movies don't. "The Naked Gun: From the Files of 'Police Squad!' " (citywide) definitely falls in the first category.

Here is a vulgar collection of cheesy jokes, bald-faced stick-it-in-your eye slapstick, appalling parodies of old TV cop shows and puns for which someone should be half-shot at sunrise.

There are inane Abbott-and-Costello word-games that resemble the demented prattle of crazed infants. There are lewd innuendoes of every type. And there's enough bad taste and cornball humor to choke Wilbur and Mr. Ed and capsize Gilligan's Island. Somehow, the movie kills you anyway.

Maybe it's sheer density. "The Naked Gun" was written by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker "Airplane"-"Kentucky Fried Theater" team. And their method, as before, is to throw up a blizzard of gags and goofs, one every 20 seconds or so, while bringing on a parade of TV and sports stars--from Priscilla Presley to O. J. Simpson to song parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"The Naked Gun" is a continuation of their short-lived 1982 TV series, "Police Squad! (in color)." That show was a sendup of the standard '50s-'60s TV cop thriller--of the "Adam 12" level--reconceived as if it were invaded by the Three Stooges and done by half-asleep actors, emptily bombastic announcers and jaded old pros too bored with everything to scrub out the obvious boo-boos.

Here, "Police Squad's" silver-tipped spruce, Leslie Nielsen, the dourly impassive Detective Lt. Frank Drebin, who can't park a squad car without knocking over every trash can in the neighborhood, is flung straight-faced into the maw of world Communism and terrorism. Before the story begins, Drebin takes on Castro, Kadafi, the Ayatollah Khomeini, even poor Gorbachev, in a Stallone-Schwarzenegger one-against-a-bunch bust-up.

Soon, more serious threats intervene: an impending good-will tour by Queen Elizabeth, (played here by Jeanette Charles, who also resembles Dr. Ruth) during which H.R.H. is scheduled to be assassinated by the dapper, perfidious Victor Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban), the kind of smoothie who should be hawking Paul Masson.

In the years since he first played Drebin, Nielsen has deepened the role, made it more subtle, more universal, more paramount. He's brought out an almost preternatural mellowness in a character who began as a relatively uncomplicated dimwit. Now, when Drebin bangs into a trash can, or crosses his eyes and falls over his foot, or plunges his hand into a tropical fish tank, or sets fire to an apartment while trying to light a match, one can sense profound world-weariness, an overpowering Angst. Or maybe one only thinks one can. In any case, Nielsen looks as natty as Merv Griffin, mugs like Red Skelton and has a richer, deeper monotone than Jack Webb.

Abrahams and the Zuckers are the ultimate couch potato gagsters. They're unabashed boob tube exploiters, who seem to see the world through a TV screen, darkly. The way they use actors like Nielsen, Montalban and George Kennedy (promoted over Alan North as Drebin's sidekick) shows their frenziedly ironic devotion to media trash. Actors who have made a career of keeping straight faces through preposterous lines are ideal for a movie like "The Naked Gun." And David Zucker, directing alone this time, handles them like an equally straight-faced, jaded young hack who can't understand why the set keeps blowing up. The result is, no kidding, funnier than all six "Police Squad! (in color)" shows put together.

"The Naked Gun" (MPAA rated PG-13 for language, puns and implied nudity) has one major flaw: the scene where an obese woman falls on Reggie Jackson, as a hypnotized zombie right-fielder royal assassin. Isn't it painfully obvious that Jackson should be squashed not by this rotund interloper but by George Steinbrenner, in the throes of an apoplectic fit, followed by Billy Martin and Margaret Thatcher? Never mind. No one achieves perfection in this vale of tears, this chaos, this naked gun of a world we live in. Not even "Weird Al" Yankovic.

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