Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Police Academy — following the wacky lowbrow exploits and tribulations of a police academy graduating class as they blunder their way through the world of law enforcement while always remaining disrespected underdogs. The series stretched over seven films from 1984 to 1994, as well as two seasons of an animated television series (1988-1989) and a single season of a live-action sitcom (1997).
The Installment: Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)
The Story: Having concluded the first film with the successful graduation of our hero cadets, the franchise logically should move out into the real world. And it does. Captain Pete Lassard (Howard Hesseman) is in a tight spot. He’s running the worst precinct in the city and has only a month to shape shit up or else he’s gonna get demoted. His problems all stem from being understaffed, so he calls his brother over at the police academy, Cmdt. Lassard (George Gaynes), to ask for his six best graduates. Presumably because he’s a clueless idiot, Cmdt. Lassard gives Pete six of our characters from the first film – Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Tackleberry (David Graf), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Jones (Michael Winslow), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), and Fackler (Bruce Mahler) – despite the fact that they were all pretty goddamn incompetent. Our six noobs are tasked with taking down the massive street gang terrorizing the neighborhood under the leadership of Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait). Though our heroes are such idiot fuck-ups they probably would’ve gotten Pete fired anyway, things can’t move fast enough for our new unlikable middle-management asshole, Lt. Mauser (Art Metrano), who stands to gain Pete’s job if Pete gets fired. Wackiness ensues.
What Works: While it feels sort of wrong to call the original Police Academy “clever,” it was nonetheless a pretty successful mash-up of the tone and style of Animal House with the attitude and structure of Stripes. Had there never been any sequels I think it would be more fondly remembered by the greater populace today. Comparable to the Death Wish franchise, in a sense it almost doesn’t belong with the rest of the films. Police Academy 2 is where the series really begins. Wisely recognizing that despite its very adult themes and scenarios, the most easily replicated successes of the first film (the sillier character stuff) hit its most sensitive nerve with the younger male crowd. And the slapstick loving foreign crowd. So things have been downgraded from R to PG-13, and the cartoony shenanigans have been ramped up. That means we don’t get anything like the comically uncreative line of bikini-top-removing extras parading past the camera during the bonfire scene in the first film. Sigh. Now we only get two topless sunbathers briefly sitting up in shock. Hey, bare breasts in a PG-13 movie? Not bad. Godbless you 1980’s; you were a more amazing time, in many ways. (The tasteless joke my friends and I used to say as kids, regarding these PG-13 boobies, was that tits only get an R rating when they are big.)
Speaking of the Death Wish franchise, the best part of Police Academy 2 is Zed’s gang, The Scullions, which seem ripped straight out of Death Wish 3 — with their classic 80’s nonsense outfits (part biker getup, part new wave), their punk rock hairdos, and their love of aimless harassment. And against all odds, Bobcat Goldthwait is actually pretty fucking hilarious. I’ve mentioned before that I had thought about doing one or more of the Police Academy movies for Childhood’s End. I loved this shit when I was a wee one, and one of my favorite characters was Zed. I loved anything Bobcat did (yes, including Hot To Trot). I was positive I would find him absolutely obnoxious now. Color me surprised, Zed is funny. From Zed crying while watching an episode of TV’s Family Affair, to him revealing to his gang that he doesn’t like Ferris wheels because they make him sick (and then saying he might go for a ride if the other gang members will join him), Zed is a strange delight. Bobcat works. The whole gang works. Police Academy 2‘s narrative is at its strongest during the unfortunately too brief subplot where Mahoney needs to go undercover and join Zed’s gang. From Mahoney’s over-the-top displays of criminality that get him invited into the gang, to the comically oversized “wire” he’s forced to where, to the idiotic voice he uses for his thug persona, Jughead, this shit is pretty funny. But it comes very late in the film and is over in a couple scenes. This subplot should have been the thrust of the entire story.
Character development is not something the Police Academy franchise seems very concerned with thus far, which is probably what makes the love story given to Tackleberry feel so needed and pleasant. It also doesn’t hurt that it involves my age-old Clue crush, Colleen Camp, as Kirkland, Tackleberry’s new partner and object of his affections. Their romance is basic and obvious, but definitely one of the highlights of the film. The lovebirds get two of the film’s best bits: 1) their sex scene, which is a static shot held on their feet as they undress each other; with weaponry falling to the ground outnumbering their articles of clothing, and 2) the scene in which Tackleberry meets Kirkland’s family and Kirkland’s brother and father get into an epically violent yet entirely friendly fist fight.
Art Metrano as Mauser is at least a worthy successor to G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris, though not quite as fantastic. And though I generally hate when sequels shoehorn in characters from the previous films, any chance to see George Gaynes as Lassard is welcome. The film uses him sparingly and well too. Fuck me, but I laughed out loud when Lassard visits Pete at Benihana’s (restaurant) and sets his goldfish bowl – with goldfish inside – on the table, not realizing it is a hot grill. Gold, I tellz ya. WKRP in Cincinnati‘s creator Hugh Wilson directed the first film, and now we finally get a WKRP in Cincinnati cast member, Howard Hessman — cast fairly against type at this stage in his career. Hessman is always fun, though not given much to work with here. Seeing him completely spray painted (pic at the bottom) is still solid visual humor. I also spotted a blink and you’ll miss her bit appearance by Julie Brown, as the department’s seamstress.
What Doesn’t Work: Police Academy 2 has a much sounder overall story than the first film, which really didn’t have a story or conflict whatsoever, but unfortunately the character problems of the first film had have been compounded here. Our returning six heroes (we’re now missing ladies man George Martin and fatso Leslie) just seem to drift through life and events without motivation or real reactions. Other than Mahoney, Tackleberry is the only member of the crew who inspires much of a connection. As one note as his personality is, he at least cares about what he’s doing. I’ll also give Hightower a pass, because Bubba Smith isn’t really an actor and I have a soft spot for giants, but let’s talk about the other three…
Fackler is actually rather unlikable. His whole joke is how he bumbles silently and Mr. Bean-like through life, causing destruction, but as much as I love Bruce Mahler in Friday the 13th Part IV, he’s no Rowan Atikinson. Why is this guy a fucking cop???? I still want to know! Jones started to bother me in this film, largely because they’ve started accentuating his vocal FX with actual post-production sound FX, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the wildly pointless character. And then there is Hooks. I realize Kim Cattrall probably turned them down and they wanted to keep another female, but Jesus is Hooks a worthless character. Jones is pointless, but at least he does something; sound FX. Kids like that shit. Hooks serves no purpose whatsoever and I’m hard-pressed to guess what her appeal is. We’re supposed to be upset with Mauser when he assigns Hooks a desk job, but why wouldn’t he? She fucking sucks. Her entire character trait from the first film was that she spoke softly, and then at the end she yells a single line: “Don’t move dirtbag.” Once again this is her entire motherfucking character arc. She’s barely in the film, gets mocked by Mauser for speaking softly, and then just like she did at the end of the first film, she randomly appears when a bad guy has been knocked to the ground (by a different character) then she once again yells “Don’t move dirtbag.” Did test audience cheer for this shit? Of the dozens of winning gags from the first film, what an incredibly lame one to turn into a running joke. I get why they brought the Blue Oyster gay bar back. Not this.
I found the creative choice to make our hero cops all fuck-ups again to be weird. Their first big day on the job with their new partners (we also really don’t need more characters here; new partners for everyone was not necessary, we already have six heroes) winds up with our characters completely destroying a chandelier store owned by the film’s much beleaguered local resident, Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky). The film kind of acts like this was somehow the result of Mauser’s scheming – he told Mahoney not to wait for backup – but that doesn’t add up because backup arrives anyway and they all destroy the shop. They are to blame. They are horrible, horrible cops. This is good for a cheap laugh, but the film would have been much stronger if Mauser really was keeping our heroes down. Once again we have the dynamic where our heroes suck, and our villain is mainly a villain because he’s a dick, not because he’s standing in our heroes’ way or hurting them.
Also, Proctor (Lance Kinsey), while affably stupid as Mauser’s eager to place henchman, is a poor replacement for Copeland and Blankes.
Take That Reality: Two things. 1) At the beginning of the film, our heroes all have police assignments. By what authority or logic would the head of the police academy re-assign them to his brother’s precinct? 2) If the captain of a police precinct where personally assaulted by a gang, the entire city’s SWAT force would be wrecking havoc on the Scullion’s territory. Cops get really pissed off when anything even remotely bad happens to another cop. Even a cop from a disrespected precinct. This isn’t the ‘Old West.’
Most Gratuitous T&A: During Mahoney’s first scene, while he’s is pursuing some partying jackass illegally driving his truck on the beach, the chase zooms past two chicks sunbathing topless, face down. Startled, they sit up. Boobs happen.
Most Childish Gag: Apparently in this city cops can order forcible body cavity searches to be performed suddenly on other people, even on other cops. Mahoney schedules an anus probing for Mauser, which is carried out against Mauser’s will by an overweight woman.
Best Prank: When Mahoney swaps out Mauser’s shampoo for Tackleberry’s epoxy resin solution, causing Mauser’s hands to fuse with his hair. Not only does this force Mauser to leave the locker room, completely naked, but after Proctor crudely cuts his hands free, Mauser is forced to wear a ridiculous wig and walk around with hairy palms (cue masturbation jokes!).
Best Villain Dialogue:
Zed: Don’t make me flare my nostrils!
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue:
Lt. Mauser: Mahoney, what kind of clown do you think I am?
Mahoney: A juggling clown?
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: When Jones starts acting like he’s in a kung fu movie while fighting some thugs (apparently being able to do the sound FX also means that he can competently perform the martial arts too; who is this man?!).
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Hey, the kids dig it. Whatever.
Up Next: Police Academy 3: Back In Training