Consider "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear." The title is funny enough, so are the credits ("Un Film de David Zucker"), and the key art, showing fearless Lt. Frank Drebin spread-eagled on a pair of speeding bullets, is good for a chuckle as well. But that's where the laughter ends, pal. Because the only thing about "The Naked Gun" that won't make you laugh is the film itself.
Can it be 11 years since three brash young men rode out of the East (or was it the West) and co-wrote and co-directed "Airplane!"? David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker established themselves as masters of off-the-wall humor with that film, which shot Otto the Inflatable Pilot to instant stardom and gave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a much needed chance to refute carping critics of his basketball-playing style.
Breakthrough funny as that film was, it was almost by definition a high-wire act that was impossible to duplicate, especially given the fact that the trio that pulled off the caper has not worked together as a unit for five years. But Hollywood being Hollywood, attempts have periodically been made, of which "Naked Gun 2 1/2" is the weakest. To mix a metaphor in appropriate style, the filmmakers have really beaten a dead horse into the ground with this one.
Director and co-writer (with Pat Proft) David Zucker made things as easy as possible for himself by recasting the key actors of the original (and funnier) "The Naked Gun." So silver-maned Leslie Nielsen returns as Lt. "It's All Part of the Job" Drebin, the lout's lout, a man who can be counted on not only to put his foot in his mouth but to add the entire leg as well. Also back are George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson as his comrades in arms and Priscilla Presley as his much-put-upon love interest.
"The Naked Gun 2 1/2" (citywide) opens with Drebin putting in a catastrophic appearance at a White House state dinner to accept congratulations for having killed 1,000 drug pushers. Actually, the lieutenant admits sheepishly, he ran the last two over with his car. That's a joke, folks.
Also at the dinner is deep-thinking presidential adviser Dr. Albert Meinheimer (Richard Griffiths), who is about to make a speech calling for greater use of alternative forms of energy. (If nothing else, this film is certainly ecologically sound.) Not so fast, say the nasty oil, coal and nuclear energy special interests. Lead by the suave Quentin Hapsburg (Robert Goulet), they soon enough come up with a way to stop Meinheimer in his tracks--if they can just keep Drebin off their trail.
That is not a synopsis of "The Naked Gun 2 1/2's" plot, that is the whole thing. All the time in between is spent throwing an enormous variety of nominally funny material at the audience, hoping some of it will draw a laugh. There are sex jokes on a junior high level, non sequiturs of the "Do you speak French? No, but I kiss that way" variety, and a great many too many cartoon-like pratfalls and physical mishaps. Even worse, now that Zucker has turned himself into an institution and this style of humor into a lifetime sinecure, the "Look, Ma, no hands" exuberance that made the original "Airplane!" so refreshing has totally gone by the boards.
Though it is hard to say too many bad words about a film that features both White House Chief of Staff John Sununu as a collateral villain and a cameo appearance by Zsa Zsa Gabor, the PG-13-rated "Naked Gun 2 1/2" ultimately tries much too hard for far too few laughs. By the time one of its characters exclaims "I've just had enough," it will be difficult to find anyone in the audience who doesn't wholeheartedly agree.
'The Naked Gun 2 1/2:
The Smell of Fear'
Leslie Nielsen: Lt. Frank Drebin
Priscilla Presley: Jane Spencer
George Kennedy: Capt. Ed Hocken
O.J. Simpson: Nordberg
Robert Goulet: Quentin Hapsburg
Richard Griffiths: Dr. Albert Meinheimer
A Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director David Zucker. Producer Robert K. Weiss. Executive producers Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Gil Netter. Screenplay David Zucker & Pat Proft. Cinematographer Robert Stevens. Editor James Symons. Costumes Taryn Dechellis. Music Ira Newborn. Production design John J. Lloyd. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.