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 3: Back In Training (1986)
The Story: So apparently there are two police academies in the city. And one is going to get shut down. Our middle-management butthole from the previous film, Mauser (Art Metrano), is now running the second academy and wants to make sure that the academy run by lovable Lassard (George Gaynes) is the one that gets the ax. To do this he enlists the help of Copeland (Scott Thomson) and Blankes (Brant van Hoffman), Lt. Harris’ two stooges from the first Police Academy, who now work at Lassard’s academy as instructors. Copeland and Blankes are going to sabotage Lasssard’s school. Fortunately when news hits the precincts that Lassard needs to step things up, our wacky moron heroes decide to abandon their posts to help train the new class of cadets. In this film we lose the disaster-causing Fackler, but gain his wife as a character, as well as adding Police Academy 2‘s store owner Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky) and gangland leader Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait) to the cast of heroes.
What Works: Returning to the academy was inevitable at some point in the franchise. The series is called Police Academy after all. Moving away from the school in the second film – while quite logical, from a story standpoint – deprived us of the two best characters from the original film, Lassard (who got very little camera time) and Lt. Harris (who got zero camera time); not to mention fan favorite, Lt. Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), or rather Lt. Callahan’s breasts. Unfortunately Lt. Harris is not present here, but Callahan’s boobs are, and in theory I appreciate the return of Copeland and Blankes, who provided so many quality laughs in the first film (even though they’re given little of substance to do).
Though not particularly exciting, I at least appreciated the attempt at a grand climax here with a big waterway chase consisting of boats and jet skis. It was also at least abstractly interesting that the film reused the same inconsequential no-name thug (Doug Lennox) to serve once more as the out-of-no-where villain in a manufactured climax.
That is all.
What Doesn’t Work: “Dumb” doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative word when describing comedy. Police Academy is a good kind of dumb, and Police Academy 2 is at least a harmless kind of dumb. Police Academy 3 is the bad kind of dumb. This film is fucking garbage. The progression of the films over this initial trilogy saw us go from an R rating, to PG-13, and now to PG. While it is isn’t uncommon for a franchise to increasingly become sillier as it progresses (Nightmare on Elm St), it is quite uncommon for a franchise to demote itself two full MPAA ratings. Of course, rating alone has nothing to do with Police Academy 3‘s problems – Toy Story is rated G and is completely hilarious. Not to mention, this was a 1986 PG, so Callahan’s bloated chest is still being exploited at nearly every turn – but the fact that producer and series overlord Paul Maslansky shifted the franchise in this direction is very telling of what elements he wanted to replicate: the cartoony slapstick and over-the-top character bits.
Gone are clever dialogue exchanges, and more tragically, gone is the already meager amount of nuance and subtly. This is most sadly felt with Lassard. Though the film opens with a great Lassard bit – in which he casually hits a woman in the face after a fly lands on her cheek – the character is soon consumed by an inferno of lazy slapstick. It pained me to see the always game George Gaynes so wasted and forced to do such stupid shit. Gaynes’ primary strength is his weird delivery and speaking voice, but lacking winning words to put in Gaynes mouth director Jerry Paris (returning from 2) instead has Lassard falling out of chairs and breaking things in every scene, like he’s Chevy Chase’s old SNL Gerald Ford character. While this laziness most bothered me with Lassard, it is symptomatic of the entire film — whenever the filmmakers can’t come up with a good joke (which is 95% of the time), they simply insert some moronic and uncreative visual bit. Alas, we’re only three films into the series, and this is the sort of shit that translated extremely well to oversees markets. So it’s not like any kind of lesson was learned here. This movie made major bank.
Speaking of director Jerry Paris. His direction here is almost a criminal offense. Police Academy 2 was by no means a well directed film, but it was at least competent. This film is a jumbled mess of off-mark eyelines and awkwardly assembled inter-scene shot progressions. I hope he only had 9 days to shoot this whole thing, or something, otherwise it is inexcusable.
I have already complained a lot about our heroes before, but there have previously been a few successful characters to keep things afloat. No longer. Now all our characters suck. Mahoney, always hovering dangerously close to the edge of being more sociopathic than he is charming, gets lost in the shuffle here and only surfaces to be a boring and irritating shadow of his former self. There is a scene near the beginning when Cadet Nogata (Brian Tochi), the film’s wackily offensive Japanese character, arrives by cab. The cabbie is trying to charge him $700, but Nogata is retarded so he’s trying to pay the dude in Yen, which is creating a situation. Now, as presented in the film, the cabbie isn’t trying to trick Nogata. The fare really is $700. Since we have no idea how far away Nogata is coming from, we also have no idea how outrageous that fare is. But when Mahoney wanders by he decides this cabbie is a dick (is it dickish to be upset when your passenger is trying to pay you with foreign currency?). He also decides it is his karmic prerogative to fuck over this innocent cabbie. Not only does Mahoney decide Nogata won’t have to pay anything for the ride, but he has Hightower vandalize the cab. Yeah, fuck this guy. He’s a cabbie! And cab rides are a rip-off! Don’t you hate that? And all cabbies? This guy got what he deserved for performing his function in our society. Fucking loser. What great people our heroes are! Yay!
Our old characters continue to be their old selves, only more so. Tackleberry and Hightower do their things; Hooks continues to be completely pointless and once more yells “Don’t move dirtbag!” at the end of the film (sigh). It is now pretty clear that all the really great sound FX that Michael Winslow could do were eaten up by the first and second film. Now he’s just repeating himself, or doing complete nonsense sounds. He also seems to be developing super powers. There is a moment during a fight scene where Jones levitates off the ground (huh?). The character of Jones continues to make less and less sense with each film. Even existing in a world where none of our characters feel like real people, he stands out as being unreal. Which makes the fact that Nogata goes to Jones (instead of Mahoney) to seek relationship advice extremely perplexing. I wonder if we’ll ever get any kind of character background on Jones in the franchise. I hope later on that they explain that his amazing powers come from a demon slug living inside him like they did with Jason Voorhees.
Then we have our new batch of cadets. *takes deep breath* Having an entire class of new cadets feels like something the franchise should’ve done when it wanted to pass the torch. We’re only at part 3; things should still be centered on our regular heroes. A storyline in which our heroes get sent back to the police academy to be retrained as punishment for something – a story in which they’re the cadets again – wouldn’t have made a lot of logical sense, but it would have at least kept things focused. There are just too many new characters, most of whom not only have absolutely no personality , but also lack the classic Police Academy single identifiable trait. The unlikable Fackler is finally worked out of the series (appearing in only one scene at the beginning, in which he oddly displays more personality than he did in the first two films combined), but for some reason he is replaced by his wife (Debralee Scott). I can’t describe Mrs. Fackler’s personality to you, cause I don’t know what it is. Colleen Camp wisely did not appear in this disaster, but her character’s brother (Andrew Paris) is now a cadet. He’s friendly. That’s his character I guess. Then we have Hedges (David Huband), who is rich and I guess sort of a pussy, but his wealth never enters into things after his introduction and he isn’t as big a pussy as Sweetchuck, so I really don’t know why this character even exists. Sweetchuck is okay, but suffers from his connection to Zed. Remember last time how I said I was surprised I didn’t find Bobcat Goldthwait’s performance in Police Academy 2 annoying all these years later? Well it happened here. Jesus is he annoying. Lastly there is Mahoney’s love interest, Cadet Adams (Shawn Weatherly), who is so boring that I actually have nothing more to say about her. Nogata is the only new character given much of a personality. He has a crush on Callahan, and that at least gives him a goal and shit. So that’s nice. But he’s not funny. So that’s less nice. Cramming all these random dull characters in here just clutters things. We don’t have enough time to develop any of them, and they prevent us from delving deeper into our regular heroes.
I would describe all of the Police Academy films is having “stuff happens” structures, but 3 has had the most egregious case of that so far. Which is surprising considering it actually has the most concrete conflict so far — a classic Camp A versus Camp B story. But since all of these films are just loosely strung together gags and set pieces, the fact that this film is so painfully unfunny really exposes the non-structure. There is also a scene where Callahan and Hooks sing a song, as though this were some rom-com. “What is happening here?” is all I could think during this scene. The call-backs and plot point repetitions are pretty disappointing too. People liked when hardass Callahan fell for ladies man George Martin in the first film. Now she falls for Japanese stereotype Nogata. It isn’t funny, or even cute (like Tackleberry and Kirkland’s romance from 2). And worse, it doesn’t even make much sense. Is she that desperate? And if so, why?
Take That Reality: I could be wrong, but I don’t think police officers possess the ability to fuck off from their regular assignments/duties to go be instructors at a police academy, just cause they want to. I hope they at least left a note at their precinct.
Most Gratuitous T&A: The entire character of Callahan.
Most Childish Gag: Zed knocks over a door by screaming at it.
Best Prank: Continuing Mahoney’s love of ruining Mauser’s hair situation, a piece of tape is placed on Mauser’s forehead. When Mauser has Proctor rip the tape off, he loses his eyebrows.
Best Villain Dialogue: Proctor: Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue: Not applicable.
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: Making nonsensical monster sounds when Mauser is trying to talk to the Governor; nonsensical monster sounds that the Governor for some reason believes are actually coming out of Mauser’s mouth.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: No. It’s not fun anymore.
Up Next: Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol