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 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987)
The Story: After three films of oblivious disengagement, everybody’s favorite idiot, Commandant Lassard, has suddenly decided to become proactively involved in the world of policing. He has devised a new scheme for helping keep the streets of the nameless Police Academy city safe: deputizing regular citizens (the program is called Citizens on Patrol, or C.O.P.). To help him pull off his new dream, Lassard enlists the help of our central crew, which now consists of regulars Mahoney, Hightower, Jones, Tackleberry, and Hooks, with the addition of the iron-breasted Callahan, and recent additions, Zed (Bobcat Goldthrwait) and Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky). Not everyone loves Lassard’s idea, namely Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey), making his triumphant return to the franchise. Mauser is gone, but his goonball sidekick Proctor (Lance Kinsey) is now Harris’ goonball sidekick. Not sure how that happened, but whatever. When Lassard takes off for London to talk with some international police peeps about C.O.P., Harris is given command of the police academy and the C.O.P. recruits. Our primary new recruits are a crazy old lady, Mrs. Feldman (Billie Bird), a giant fat guy, House (Tab Thacker), and two skateboarding punks played by David Spade and Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Brian Backer. And you better believe some shenanigans are afoot.
What Works: There are two different lenses through which we can view this film. As a sequel to Police Academy, the original R-rated Pat Proft/Neal Israel party comedy, it is almost hard to categorize just how terrible this film is; how far we’ve fallen from grace. As a PG comedy aimed at tween boys and even younger kids, the film is harmless and diverting idiocy, and actually quite successful in parts. In either case, it is better than Police Academy 3.
As regards the cast, Police Academy 4 is a last hurrah of sorts. It’s kind of surprising Steve Guttenberg lasted this long in the series (I think most people falsely remember him checking out much earlier). Presumably the films were fun to shoot and the paychecks were handsome, because Cocoon and Short Circuit surely must have demonstrated to him that he had other options. Yet, ironically enough, 3 Men and a Baby was released the same year as Police Academy 4 and marked the zenith and end of his career. Afterwards his two biggest films were lame sequels to Cocoon and 3 Men, and by 1990 things were essentially over for the Gutte. PA4 is also the last film to feature Zed, Sweetchuck, Tackleberry’s wife Kirkland, and jackass foil Copeland (Scott Thompson). It is also the last time we see the perennial Blue Oyster gay bar. The film is kind of stuck between worlds in a sense too. While we get Copeland one last time, his partner in crime, Blankes (Brant Von Hoffman), is already conspicuously absent. And Art Metrano, who played the Harris replacement Mauser, suffered an injury between films and was forced to decline a return. Fortunately they were able to replace him with the very person he originally replaced. This explains why Harris oddly has Mauser’s sidekick, Proctor. But G.W. Bailey’s Harris is a welcome return. Mauser worked nicely, but I like Harris better because he seems so painfully aware of how ridiculous the world around him is. He also cares about being a cop, as opposed to Mauser, who was always seeking personal gain. While this can create certain problems regarding the motivations of our heroes (see my complaints about the first film), in purely antagonist terms I find it more interesting. Villains who believe in what they’re doing are always fun.
Maybe it is just because I was coming hot off the ugly mess that was PA3, but PA4 surprised me with the attention it paid to the new characters. Whereas 3 dropped a half-dozen noobs in our laps and left it to us to try and glean what their personalities were, PA4 gives us comparatively solid introductions to our most relevant new characters. In fact, the introduction of Kyle and Arnie, the two skaters, is almost too long — a now comically quaint skateboarding chase (which features some work by a young Tony Hawk). The sequence doesn’t make tons of sense. Why does Harris, the Captain of a precinct, get involved with catching two skateboarding teens? But, regardless, we spend a lot of time with the two characters. We also get a nice lead in to the overzealous widow, Mrs. Feldman, who Tackleberry takes a special shine to (it almost seems like he’s in love with her at times).
My favorite new character is the photographer Laura (Corinne Bohrer), not because of any attributes she has but because she allows Zed to be fun again. I hated Bobcat Goldthwait in 3. But now given a love story in addition to his ongoing bickering buddy-cop relationship with Sweetchuck, the film has something for him to do other than just yell and make Goldthwait grunts. Still an acquired taste, Zed is delightful in the film and has some wonderfully skewed line deliveries. And the love story is cute and silly in that kids movie kind of way, where there really isn’t anything sexual or actually romantic going on. The best part of their relationship is Bohrer’s choice to subtly flinch or startle whenever Zed starts talking, which seems like an honest reaction to his speaking style. It’s been a rarity in this series that I actually feel myself wanting more of anything, but I could have done with a couple more Zed and Laura scenes. Speaking of successful Police Academy romances, I’m glad they got Colleen Camp back as Kirkland, even if it was just for one scene. The Kirkland family is still funny (with all their punching and ass slapping), but seeing them in PA2 without Camp just felt wrong.
Last time we had a marine climax consisting of a boats and jet skiis. Now we end in an aerial pursuit with bi-planes and hot air balloons. It makes no sense, but at this point criticizing the out-of-no-where climax in a Police Academy film seems unnecessary. Plus, I gotta give it to the film, there is some nice bi-plane stuntwork here.
Though it is terrible, I couldn’t help but enjoy “Citizens on Patrol,” the rap song sung/sound FX’d by Michael Winslow that opens the film. And Callahan fans get a nice wet T-shirt scene (man, did PG mean something different in 1987).
What Doesn’t Work: Based on how things turned out, Guttenberg should have left after Police Academy 2. And I’m not talking about the quality of the films, but the quality of Mahoney. He’s easily one of the worst things about PA4. Whether it is the dialogue, the character not getting enough screen time to connect with us, or the Gutte phoning shit in, Mahoney has become entirely charmless. He came across as annoying when flirting with the pointless romantic lead in PA3, and here it is even worse. Now, when flirting with Sharon Stones’ even more pointless reporter character, Mahoney just seems desperate and lame, which makes him kind of creepy. And worse, sad. You can’t help but look right through to Guttenberg, as you wonder the same thing about both the character and the actor — why are you still hanging around here? As long as we’ve brought up Stone, wow, I’m hard pressed to think of a more absentmindedly handled and irrelevant romantic subplot. Possibly much of this story was sent to the cutting room floor, but what’s left on the screen barely even qualifies as a “subplot.” Stone’s character seems to exist solely to remind us Mahoney isn’t gay, and to inexplicably be able to fly a plane during the climax.
As I said, if viewed as a kid’s film, PA4 works. But that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about some stuff anyway. The film features a cavalcade of extremely juvenile gags. A pigeon repeatedly shitting on Sweetchuck. A dog sniffing Harris’ balls. House, the giant fat guy, sitting on one end of a bench, which launches Sweetchuck into the air and lodges him in a basketball hoop (of course, registering 2 points on a nearby scoreboard). Whatever. Kids loves this kind of stuff. In fact, I thought that House bench gag was the height of comedy when I was a lad. But there is a difference between dumb or juvenile gags, and lazy gags. The lazy, illogical stuff is what bugs me now. In a court room scene, Harris bends over and Jones makes a loud farting sound effect. Not only does everyone assume it is real, Harris seems to assume it is real too and gets embarrassed. So, wait… Harris can’t tell when he farts? And why would a judge hold him in contempt of court for farting? In another scene, after threatening Mahoney, Harris “comically” walks into the shower room and gets all wet. How do you accidentally walk into the shower, while its on? You can hear the water, feel the steam! He was walking slowly too!
The Blue Oyster should have been retired after PA2. Its inclusion here is so throwaway it is almost impressive. Mahoney gives Proctor and Harris a referral to a nice restaurant, and wacka wacka, it turns out to be the Blue Oyster and Harris and Proctor of course get pulled into a gay tango. Sigh. Okay, A) Why would Harris get a referral from Mahoney for anything? He thinks Mahoney is an idiot, and Mahoney is constantly pulling pranks on him. B) Proctor knows where the Blue Oyster is and what it; he knows its address in PA2 and he gets sucked into a tango in PA3. This leads me to believe that Proctor knew what was up and secretly wants to fuck Harris. He was hoping something would happen here and maybe they’d find themselves dancing together. Conspiracy!
Pranks. Pranks have always played an important role in the PA series. I’ve always felt that PA and Friday the 13th were the franchises that best represented the excess of the 80’s. And as the Friday films tried to keep upping the kill counts, it seems like the PA films decided to keep upping the pranks. PA4 is seemingly an endless series of pranks, some of which are ridiculously elaborate — like the prank Mahoney, Jones, Tackleberry, and Hightower play on House, Arnie and Kyle for being cocky, which culminates in Hightower pretending to be a Rastafarian voodoo madman and resurrecting a slasher Tackleberry from a body bag (Tackelberry is wearing a hockey mask here; franchise synergy!). Mauser had some pretty dangerous pranks pulled on him, but the sheer amount of dangerous pranks in PA4 is worrisome. Harris is sprayed with mace, forced to inhale helium (which can actually be very dangerous), and has his megaphone glued to his face with super glue. Glued to his face. That’s not fucking funny. If he lost enough skin around his mouth he could easily have a scar. Mahoney also talks a construction crew into picking up the port-a-pod that Proctor is shitting in with a crane and moving it to a football stadium. This seems like an easy way to accidentally kill someone. Mahoney is a psychopath.
PA4 also continues a subtle problem with the franchise, most woefully seen in PA2, and that is our heroes being undeserving fuck-ups. Harris wants to shut down C.O.P., not out of spite or personal gain, he just thinks it’s a terrible idea. And the moment the C.O.P. recruits are sent out into the streets, they prove him right by fucking things up. Big time. They ruin the biggest undercover sting operation the city’s police force had ever attempted. Yet we’re supposed to feel like its a bad thing that C.O.P. is getting shut down. I don’t know, that seems pretty reasonable to me.
This isn’t really a critique, more of a minor observation… As we’ve talked about before, Jones is insane. And the fact that no one seems to acknowledge this is weird. We’re four films in and I know absolutely nothing about the character; I walked away from this film knowing significantly more about Mrs. Feldman. There is a scene in PA4 where House, Kyle and Arnie are hanging out in their room, when Jones enters. During the entire scene Jones speaks in a Dracula voice and makes crazy faces. Then he leaves. There is a slight pause, and then House, Kyle and Arnie go back to what they were talking about. In what world would these three guys not comment on the insanity they just witnessed. “What the fucking hell was that?” House should have said. Even if they were used to Jones, I still don’t know how they could avoid at least saying, “Man, that guy is weird.”
Oh yeah, and fuck you, Hooks. Why are you still in these movies? Did you do anything in this film? I can’t remember. Did you yell “Don’t move dirtbag” at the end? If so I repressed it.
Take That Reality: When Jones is fighting a bunch of ninjas on a boat, why do they just stand there and let him do all his sound FX? Even more nonsensical, why do they remain motionless while actually fighting him, allowing him to do things like pretending to put hot sauce on their arm and then pretending to eat their arm? That seems like the perfect time to ninja star him in the fucking face.
Most Gratuitous T&A: Callahan’s water safety class (pic above).
Most Childish Gag: Wow. Hard to choose. I’ll give it to Hightower’s dog attack-sniffing Harris’ crotch, because it is just so egregiously pointless and unfunny, even in the context of this film.
Best Prank: I’m a fan of movie pranks you could actually pull off in real-life (and that don’t risk killing someone), so I’ll give it to Zed’s prank in which he replaces Harris’ spray deodorant with mace. Not to say that this isn’t dangerous too.
Best Villain Dialogue: Upon arresting Arnie and Kyle, the two skateboarding punks, who are dressed in humorously dated late-80’s teen attire.
Harris: “Your clothes make me want to puke.”
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue: Said before a women’s poetry group, and said with total sincerity…
Zed: Gene, Gene made a machine, and Joe, Joe made it go. Art, Art blew a fart and blew the whole damn thing apart.
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: Making applause sounds when Mahoney is giving a speech to a mostly empty room.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Nope. Let’s pack it in guys. Quit while you’re ahead right? And you haven’t been ahead for a couple movies now.
Up Next: Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach