In an attempt to catch a band of drug dealers on board a ship, undercover cop Nordberg (O.J. Simpson) is riddled with a hail of bullets. And that’s not all. In the midst of the gunfire, the poor man bangs his head, burns his hand against an oven, gets his jacket smeared with wet paint and jams his finger under a window pane. He staggers forward, falls face first into a frosted cake, sets off a bear trap and finally stumbles over the ship’s railing. Amazingly, he survives!
So begins a simple story whose plot can be summed up in a few short words. Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen
) of the L.A.P.D. is assigned to investigate the brutal attack on his fellow law enforcer. The case leads him and his chief Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) to entrepreneur Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban), head of a drug smuggling ring who has masterminded a scheme to assassinate the Queen of England during her visit to Los Angeles. Drebin, with the help of Ludwig’s lovely assistant Jane (Priscilla Presley
), miraculously foils the sinister plans.
The Naked Gun
’s story-line may verge on the trite, but it is literally the only thing about the film that’s semi-serious. In the winning tradition of their previous comedies Airplane!
(1980) and Top Secret!
(1984), scriptwriters Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker again hit the jackpot with this irreverent caper. The formulaic yet malleable plot serves as a springboard for a veritable cornucopia of hair-raising gags, which either smack the audience over the head or subtly blend into the background visuals. The range of bloopers varies from zany and surreal slapstick to situational comedy and film references, even throwing some crude knee-slappers and bawdy puns into the mix. Just as Airplane!
parodied disaster films like Airport
(1970), Top Secret! threw a pie in the face of spy films, murder mysteries and teen musicals, The Naked Gun
gleefully tramples over the conventions of the police drama.
During a stakeout, Drebin and Ed shoot the breeze while sucking on bright red lollipops that leave their lips a few shades redder than a Barbie doll’s. In another classic moment, Drebin jogs an informant’s memory with a friendly bribe. The stool pigeon, in turn, starts asking Drebin a few questions of his own and soon the two coverts are exchanging bills back and forth. At the film’s conclusion, when villain Ludwig falls over an expanse of railing, is mowed over by a bus and then flattened by a steam roller, we see that absolutely nothing is taboo as Drebin’s partner mutters - “oh, Frank! It’s horrible, horrible, my father died the same way.”
Actor Leslie Nielsen
’s Frank Drebin has a unique flair that electrifies, or rather electrocutes, this screwball comedy. The silver-haired chaos cop is an incompetent oaf and a tactless buffoon. This knuckle-head hero rambles nonsense with a dead-serious facial expression as he commits one faux pas after another. Although he always manages to accomplish the mission somehow in the end, it’s rarely thanks to his capabilities.
This picture by no means marked American audiences’ first encounter with the bungling officer. Six year’s prior to the theatrical release of The Naked Gun
, the team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker joined forces with Nielsen, who had played a supporting role in their film Airplane!
, for a short-lived TV stint in Police Squad
(1982), which proved to be a commercial flop. The ZAZ brand of humor just wasn’t able to carve out a niche in television. Audiences gave the series the cold shoulder and it was pulled after six episodes. But the movie versions more than made up for that. Two film sequels followed, including The Naked Gun 2 1/2 - The Smell of Fear
(1991) and The Naked Gun 33 1/3 - The Final Insult
(1994), which wrapped up the trilogy.