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The Naked Guns

"The Naked Guns" on DVD

Multiple Yuks

"Airplane" set a new standard, as it were, for lowbrow, slapstick movie comedy, and the brains behind it followed up, eventually, with "The Naked Gun" series of movies.

Originally a six part TV series called "Police Squad," the concept follows Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) as he bumbles his way through life. The first film "The Naked Gun" sees him attempting to foil an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth while she's visiting Los Angeles.

The movie (in fact, all three of the movies) sets the tone right from frame one. Frank, supposedly on vacation in Beirut, bursts in on a meeting of international bad guys (including the Ayatollah Khomeini, Moammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat and others), and single handedly disrupts their plans.

Back in California, at his regular job on Police Squad, Drebin stumbles across the assassination plot, which uses mind control to force otherwise innocent people to become ruthless killers.

As they do in all three films, Priscilla Presley provides the love interest, George Kennedy is Drebin's boss Ed Hocken, and O.J. Simpson is a perpetually dumped upon co-worker who has wreaked upon him probably just slightly less havoc than the Goldman family would like to see done in real life.

Guest stars include Ricardo Montalban, the Seattle Mariners and the California Angels, as well as the TV play by play team. Everyone gets a chance to mug for the camera and participate in some not-too-subtle gags, but what would a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker film be otherwise?

As with this filmmaking trio's other efforts, it's virtually impossible not to laugh out loud at least once - and you may find yourself snickering on many occasions, some of which you may be embarrassed to admit.

The DVD is in widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TV's, though the picture's a tad soft for our liking. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 "surround" with very little from the rear channels. Extras include the trailer, and a "group commentary" from co-writer/director David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and "host" Peter Tilden. The commentary was done in year 2000 specifically for the DVD release and in places is almost as funny as the movie itself.

Naked Gun 21/2: The Smell of Fear The second film looks and sounds much better than the original, at least on the DVD but, more importantly, manages to keep up the tradition of "excellence" established in the first film.

All the regulars are back, but this time the bad guy is Robert Goulet, who's out to destroy the environment. The film's kind of a politically correct joke on politically correct issues, and it manages to lampoon some sacred cows in the process.

Chief among these sacred cows is then-president George Bush and his wife Barbara, who seem to be favorite targets of the liberal Hollywood elite. The Bushes are humiliated in all manner of manners in Naked Gun 21/2, and it's very funny. Interestingly, during the commentary that accompanies the disc, and which is basically a continuation of the commentary on the first movie's DVD, the makers' liberal/Democratic bent becomes obvious, which makes the attacks on the Bushes a tad mean spirited - especially when you consider that Democrat Clinton is barely touched in the third movie. The Bushes are big people, though, and undoubtedly laughed as much as anyone else at their portrayal.

It makes one wonder, however, what the reaction would have been if a Republican-leaning team of filmmakers had given Clinton the same treatment. We can hear the cries of "Unfair!", "Mean Spirited," "Etc.!", "Etc.!" now. But we digress...

"The Smell of Fear" apparently did better at the box office than did the first film, though we find it isn't quite as funny. It's still a hoot that's well worth seeing, however, especially in the widescreen DVD format.

The picture is appreciably sharper and the audio appreciably better than the first film's DVD, which is an added bonus. Extras include the "gang commentary" and two theatrical trailers. The DVD is enhanced for 16x9 TV's and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, though again there isn't a lot of surround.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. They appear to have been running out of ideas in the third film (it only runs 82 minutes, including a well padded set of closing credits), and the filmmakers admit as much in their commentary.

Despite that, the third "Naked Gun" is almost as enjoyable as the others, and includes some high profile cameos from high powered actors who must have been chomping at the bit to be made fun of.

"III" opens with a spoof of the Brian de Palma "The Untouchables" film, and there's a terrific bit of action in the background with O.J. Simpson (back for the third time) catching babies. The main story is about a criminal plot to bomb an important site in Los Angeles, which turns out to be Oscar night. To get there, however, you have to go through the usual Drebin misadventures - and isn't that why you got the movie in the first place?

Drebin and Jane (Priscilla Presley again) are now married, and she's working as a lawyer while he stays home with the housework. Frank gets drawn back into the action again, however, when Ed (George Kennedy again) asks him to find out some dirt on a mysterious woman (Anna Nicole Smith - who proves she's nothing more than a pretty, well, more than face, when it comes to thespian abilities. But that's undoubtedly why she's there anyway). Fred Ward is the bad guy with bad intentions.

A rather large part of the movie takes place at the Oscar ceremony and, in typical Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (and Nielsen, it seems) tradition, what they do to Oscar night is cruel and unusual punishment. Still, so's watching Whoopi Goldberg host it in real life...

The "Naked Gunslingers" turn the Oscar TV show into a shambles, and you howl along with them as they do it.

The weakest of the three films, it's still worth seeing, especially for the Oscar night carnage.

The DVD's widescreen (enhanced for 16x9 TV's) video and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio (with by far the most surround effects of all three films) looks and sounds great. You get the same extras as before (though only one trailer), including the "gang commentary" that's almost as funny as much of the movie.

Like "Airplane!" before it, "The Naked Gun" series is highbrow lowbrow at its best and has spawned many an imitator. It also seems to have spawned a whole new direction to Leslie Nielsen's career, which must please the veteran Canadian actor to no end (and he does the parts well, though they all seem to be the same).

The imitators don't usually end up being as unabashedly funny as the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker efforts, though, and the jokes and gags often seem forced (as opposed to merely being lame or obvious, a la Z/A/Z' films).

So if you're looking for a funny couple of nights at the home theater (all three films run less than 4.5 hours, so you could technically watch them all in one sitting, though the breaks you'll need to take when in danger of peeing yourself will add to the running time), you could do lots worse than this trilogy from Paramount Home Video.


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Updated May 13, 2006