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EARTHWATCH

Policy Farce : The new movie 'Naked Gun 2 1/2' is a political joke with an environmentalist punch line.

June 27, 1991|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It isn't often that an environmental column has something good to say about a movie. But now there is a constructive movie out about the environment and--surprise--it's a comedy.

Readers of this column will get a bang out of director David Zucker's latest comedy, "Naked Gun 2 1/2," opening this weekend countywide. It's about electric cars. And John Sununu. Sound funny? I got an early peek and I thought it was.

Then I called Zucker's Ojai home and was told he was on another call. It turned out that he wasn't at the Ojai end of the line, but at the London end. "But he wants to talk to you," his assistant said, "so we'll patch him through."

I didn't flatter myself that he was eager to talk to me because of the one reference I made in this column a few months ago about his electric car. At that moment, Zucker probably would have talked to any journalist.

His film had just been screened for the press in London. "They applauded!" he said.

The movie has a razzle-dazzle plot that involves an archvillain, played hilariously by Robert Goulet, trying to kidnap a top energy expert, thus thwarting a White House plan to consider low-pollution energy sources.

Goulet is up against the Leslie Nielsen character from the first "Naked Gun" movie, Lt. Frank Drebin. The lieutenant's attempt to uncover Goulet's evil doings ends with Drebin himself being uncovered--or at least a body double disporting on his behalf in a hilarious love scene. And the Sununu character is such a dead ringer it's a wonder Zucker has gotten away with it.

"I think the movie is educational," said Zucker. "We did a lot of research. This is energy stuff I didn't know. I wonder if people will notice the electric car and things in with all the comedy."

Echoing a remark he once made about the first "Naked Gun," he quipped, "It's a film for the whole family to watch. Just not together."

Regardless, I'm taking my kids.

Zucker is serious about energy matters. He's gotten Paramount to do a special premiere and party tonight in Westwood to raise money for energy research, tree planting and recycling. It provides environmental leaders an opportunity to rub shoulders with movie stars, and vice versa. The stars of the film, Nielsen, Priscilla Presley. O.J. Simpson and George Kennedy, will be there.

The topic of the movie is certainly timely. And I'm not just referring to Sununu's current transportation policy. Last weekend, as part of Solar Energy Week, Ventura County witnessed a fleet of solar-powered electric cars cruising through and pit-stopping in Camarillo on their way to Northridge.

Also, this weekend offers the last chance to visit a remarkable museum show in Thousand Oaks devoted to alternative vehicles, some of them solar. I urge you to couple your weekend moviegoing with a trip to Janss Mall to see these cars.

The best of the lot, represented in photos and TV clips, may look slightly familiar. But you will be amazed to learn that the Dymaxion car was made 60 years ago by Buckminster Fuller. Only now are vehicles, like the newest vans from Japan, benefiting from Fuller's aerodynamic design ideas.

Put simply, a regular engine--whether gas or electric--doubles its mileage in a Dymaxion-type silhouette.

"The purity of that shape, instead of the usual three-box thing, gives instantaneous benefits. It does a lot with a little," explains the show's curator, Mark Murphy. A practicing industrial designer in East County, Miller is working with the Buckminster Fuller Institute in Los Angeles to re-create a full-sized model of the classic vehicle, built to carry 11 people. Only one is known still to exist, at Harrah's Auto Museum in Reno.

This looking into the past for ideas that might be useful in the future is at the very heart of the environmental trend. Zucker has reached back to the silents of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to give us a terrific modern comedy about energy thrift.

From the same era, modern auto designers and even movie makers are getting ideas for tomorrow's energy-saving cars.

* FYI (SOLD OUT)

* The sold-out premiere and party for "Naked Gun 2 1/2" will be held tonight at 7:30 at Mann's Bruin Theatre in Westwood to benefit the Safe Energy Communications Council, the Take It Back Foundation and TreePeople. The film opens in Ventura County tomorrow.

* "Alternative Vehicles--In Pursuit of a Dream," an exhibit of human-powered and alternative-fuel vehicles and models, will be at the Conejo Valley Art Museum in Janss Mall in Thousand Oaks today, Friday and Saturday. Closing party on Saturday. Call 373-0054.

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