(On Cable TV, February 2018) Considering my criticism of the Poseidon remake, I find it almost amusing that much of what I don’t like about the original The Poseidon Adventure is what didn’t work decades later. Much of the film feels like a repetitive loop as the survivors of a capsized cruise ship try to make their way out of the wreck: Encounter an obstacle, lose a member of the cast, and proceed to the next obstacle. There’s a high point during the initial disaster, and the plot does get slightly more interesting in the last half-hour, but much of The Poseidon Adventure feels too long and repetitive. The premise does have a whiff of originality to it (arguably extinguished by the remake), and it’s mildly interesting to see Leslie Nielsen pop up in what could have been a major role in any other movie. Otherwise, Gene Hackman is not bad as a priest questioning his own faith, and Ernest Borgnine makes for a capable foil throughout the ensuing adventures. The special effects are occasionally good, although the CGI achievements of the sequel clearly outshine the original in that area. There is a characteristic early-seventies feel to the entire film that some viewers will like. As for which version is better I’m curiously ambivalent—I usually prefer the originals on ideological grounds, but what I’m finding here is that the original The Poseidon Adventure doesn’t have much to recommend over its remake.
(On DVD, December 2017) How could I call myself a science-fiction expert, reviewer or even fan given that I hadn’t even seen Forbidden Planet? Isn’t it in the running for the title of the fiftiesiest of the 1950s science-fiction movies? Featuring an almost-unrecognizable Leslie Nielsen (with not-white hair!) as the captain of a mission investigating the disappearance of a colony, Forbidden Planet begins with a saucer with theremin (ish) music and clearly shows itself to be a predecessor of the Star Trek template. Much of the film is hopelessly dated by today’s standards, but consider that to be a compliment, as it can be enjoyed as a retro-futurist period piece, not wrong as much as existing in its own reality. Even the mumbo-jumbo of the third act can be excused by the rest of the film, a big-budget science-fiction spectacular with effects that are still mildly impressive today. The pacing is off, the SF devices are clumsy (Robbie the Robot, ugh!) and the acting clearly comes from a pre-realism era, but Forbidden Planet has, in sixty years, acquired a patina of charm that shields it from more conventional criticism. I enjoyed seeing it quite a bit more than I expected, and it’s not just about filling in a gap in my knowledge of the genre—there is enough good stuff here and there to make the film enjoyable on its own terms.
(On DVD, October 2017) One of the problems in watching the Naked Gun trilogy on successive days is that the series is so generally consistent in achieving its comic objectives that it’s difficult to tease apart any film-specific commentary. So what’s to be said about Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult? The film is funny; Leslie Nielsen is comedy gold with his deadpan portrayal of a veteran cop; OJ Simpson features in it. This third instalment gets more insistent with its movie-specific parodies, heralding the downfall of the subgenre later on. There’s also a crudeness to some of the gags that clearly makes this third volume the least successful in the trilogy, but that’s not really unexpected. At least the climax, set at the Academy Awards, allows for some pokes at Hollywood itself, although the references there are getting dated far more quickly than the rest of the series. Still, once you’ve started this series, there’s no real reason to stop—even as a third instalment, the film is funny enough to warrant a look.
(On DVD, October 2017) While The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear is slightly less funny than its predecessor, the difference is slight enough as to be negligible, and the original started out high enough. The result is another solid comedy, perhaps a bit more dubiously motivated (what is Frank Drebin doing in Washington, all of a sudden?) but still effectively hitting upon the tropes of police thrillers. There are a few more outright nods to specific films, but they’re still controlled well compared to the grotesque excesses of more contemporary spoofs. The poke at Bush(I)-era American politics date the film more quickly than the generic cop-thriller stuff of the first film. Otherwise, there isn’t much to say about the film that wasn’t already discussed for the first film: It’s a consistent series, now without its flaws but good enough to be worth a few laughs.
(On DVD, October 2017) Much of the fun in watching The Naked Gun is in seeing the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker team (along with Pat Proft) take on the police thriller as worthy of spoofing. Using Leslie Nielsen as a gaffe-prone policeman with more zeal than polish is inspired, but then again most of The Naked Gun comes from the short-lived but still-hilarious Police Squad! TV show. The basic elements being familiar to the filmmakers, the film itself seems well-practised, something that also probably has to do with the previous ZAZ spoof movies. In any case, the solid plot acts as a clothesline on which to add various gags, joke sequences and parodies. The number of outright parodies is low (the shift would happen in later instalments of the series) but the laughs are high, mostly because the film is spoofing a genre and generating a lot of jokes along the way. Leslie Nielsen is solid, playing his ridiculous character Frank Drebin with absolute dryness. Ricardo Montalban is also a highlight in his own way, while Priscilla Presley, George Hamilton and (ironically now) O.J. Simpson round up the main cast. The third act does get a bit long especially if you have no great interest in baseball. Still, no matter how you see it, The Naked Gun remains a terrific spoof comedy, as essential today as other classics of the genre such as Airplane!, Top Secret! or Hot Shots!
(On DVD, December 2010) Almost thirty years later, this short-lived TV series still holds up splendidly. Best-known as the prototype for the Naked Gun! trilogy of police movie spoofs, Police Squad! is an amusing attempt to translate the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker brand of rapid-paced comedy to the TV screen. The pacing is slower than the films but is considerably faster than most sitcoms and as a result still works pretty well even today, echoing the rhythm of latter series such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. Leslie Nielsen is great as Frank Drebin, although his TV portrayal is a bit more competent that the film’s doofus character. One of the ways the series can sustain its rapid-fire stream of comedy is by recycling gags, and it’s hard to tell whether they’re funnier the first or the sixth time: The end-of-episode fake-freeze moments still feel inspired today. At six episodes, total running time for the series on DVD is slightly over two hours, making it an ideal length for an evening’s viewing. The DVD contains a generous amount of supplementary material, including three episode commentaries and a gag reel.
(In theaters, October 2003) The good news are that most of the the overly gross moments of the first two films of the series have been removed; what remains may not be too tasteful (decapitations, paedophilia and dismemberment are featured here and there) but at least it’s more palatable than before. Veteran spoof director David Zucker overuses slapstick over more amusing silliness (witness the “seven days” exchange), but Scary Movie 3 still feels a lot more respectable for it. Alas, the bad news are that the comedic highlights of the first two films have also been filed off, with an overall result that is a lot more tepid than it should be. The film floats from one grin to another, with few belly-laughs in between. The visual and cinematographic re-creation of the parodies (Signs, The Ring, 8 Mile, etc) is irreproachable, but the film often does next to nothing with the material it’s given. Leslie Nielsen, continues to be obnoxious with his usual shtick, though I wonder how many will get the joke of his last appearance in the film. All in all, a rather mixed effort that feels somewhat lazy. Not the bottom of the barrel (and certainly a step up from the past five year’s worth of spoof comedies), but still far away from the genre’s best efforts. Catch it on TV late at night.