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 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988)
The Story: Despite four feature films worth of evidence that he is completely incompetent, for some reason Cmdt. Eric Lassard is getting honored as “Police Officer of the Decade.” That is the good news. Bad news is that he is also being forced to retire, because Capt. Harris discovered that Lassard has surpassed the age-requirement to run the police academy. Harris dreams of Lassard’s job, but worries he may not get it after the Commissioner (George R. Robertson) points out that no one respects Harris. So Harris decides to travel to Miami Beach, where a lavish ceremony is being held in Lassard’s honor. Here Harris plans to win everyone over. Meanwhile, three criminals, lead by Tony (Rene Auberjonois), are en route to delivering a bag of diamonds to their boss. In a moment of farce at the airport, their bag of diamonds gets mixed up with Lassard identical bag of not diamonds. Once more, wackiness ensues, but in the Miami sun this time. Oh yeah, and now Mahoney is played by Matt McCoy and is named Nick Lassard (he’s the Cmdt’s nephew).
What Works: Changing locations was a smart move. There is only so much to do in the city, and they had a hot air balloon chase in the last film, so the filmmakers kind blew their wad. Unless Godzilla was going to attack. And given the franchise’s dedication to loose shenanigans and T&A, heading to Miami was a decent selection. Though this is the most cocaine-less presentation of 1980’s Miami I’ve ever seen.
It was also a fun change of pace to have such a Lassard-centric storyline. He’s kind of reduced to a one-note Mr. Magoo-like character, but whatever. He was fairly one-note to begin with. Which makes the inclusion of a shockingly human moment in the film feel incredibly bizarre, though nonetheless interesting. The scene in question finds Lassard entering the ballroom in which his honorary ceremony is being set-up to discover a giant picture of himself. Lassard is touched by what he sees. Gaynes’ subtle reaction here is so believable it frankly pulled me out of the movie. How could it not? This was the first genuine human moment in the Police Academy series! Where did that come from? Way to sneak some drama in, Gaynes.
I’m not sure if this is something that makes the film “work” or not, but it was nonetheless fun to see more of the Commissioner. George R. Robertson has been playing the character since the first film, and the Commissioner has always played a part in the set-up and resolution of the films. This marks the first time we’ve seen him throughout. High five, dude.
While the subplot is rarely very funny, you can’t say that the farce storyline involving Lassard and the diamonds doesn’t work. Farce is like math, and either the math adds up or it doesn’t, and here it at least adds up. As I’ve said before, generally the Police Academy movies have been “stuff happens” movies. They often employ lazy set-up and pay-off gags, in which bits are paid-off mere moments after being set-up. The diamonds farce is pretty stupid, but it gives Police Academy 5 a stronger sense of building tension than any of the other films have had. There are many subplots, but we at least know that the farce plot is going somewhere.
What Doesn’t Work: Even for a Police Academy movie, this is pretty goddamn stupid. It’s odd that this film contains the first human moment in the entire franchise, because – though I’ve yet to watch the final two films – I have to imagine Police Academy 5 contains the nadir of reality in this franchise too. I’m referring to a scene in which a shark in menacing the beach, and Tackleberry makes it leave by threatening it with a gun. That’s right, he points a gun in the shark’s face, verbally threatens it, and it swims away. It is so colossally stupid that it is almost genius in its idiocy. If this is the kind of bit you’re into, well then, friendo, Police Academy 5 has many choice bits for you. Can I interest you in a bit where Hightower throws a frisbee so hard that when Proctor grabs onto it he is carried up into the air? You like Hightower? How about Hightower beating up an alligator? How about Lassard somehow carrying his goldfish around in his bag (which gets tossed around an awful lot) without any of the water spilling out of the open-topped bowl?
This film definitely feels like a new era. Even starting with the poster; the first one not painted by movie poster legend Drew Struzan. The absence of Steve Guttenberg really doesn’t matter. Mahoney was barely serving a purpose anymore anyway, and Nick is so exactly like Mahoney that you hardly notice the Gutte isn’t around. Which isn’t to say Matt McCoy’s Nick is good. He sucks. But Mahoney had started to suck by Police Academy 3, so I can’t exactly blame McCoy. Plus McCoy was in Abominable, so he gets at least a little tangential love from me. But the entire vibe of the film is sorta wrong. For one thing, the movie feels like a special episode of a sitcom in which the characters all go to Hawaii for vacation. And no one has anything to do, except Lassard. Our central characters had been marginalized in previous films by the introduction of new cadets, but there are no new cadets here. Our central characters are just marginalized by the film itself, and serve absolutely no purpose. In actuality, our two sets of antagonists – Harris and Proctor/ Tony and his two goons – are actually our protagonists, if we analyze the film structurally…
Harris is a villain, we all know. Or least he has been. While it may be unlikable that he ratted Lassard out for being too old, it’s not like Harris had that rule written. But let’s just pretend that’s a great set-up for a villain. After all, simply being a dick has been Harris’ only villainous trait previously. And he will continue being a dick here by trying to make sure that Lassard isn’t named “Police Officer of the Decade” right? No? Well, then Harris must be trying to make sure that none of our regular heroes get to have any fun in Miami, right? No? Not that either? What is Harris’ goal in the movie then? To try and show everyone that he’s not such a bad guy so he can get Lassard’s job? What a fucking dick! Oh wait… Structurally, Harris is the one who has antagonists; our heroes. While Harris doesn’t exactly do anything to win anyone over, the simple fact remains that he doesn’t do anything bad to anyone in Miami either. He is rude, but that is it. And our “heroes” continue to do mean things to him and Proctor simply because they already don’t like them. Pretty weak.
Then we have Tony. The idea of Rene Auberjonois playing an greasy Italian is pretty hilarious. Hell, just the idea of someone named Rene Auberjonois playing an Italian is hilarious. Boy does he chew some scenery in this film. I don’t even know if “over acting” is a suitable description. But that aside, Tony winds up being the most relevant character in the film by the simple virtue of being the only character with a clear desire and agenda. All our “heroes” are just chilling and engaging in random one-off gags and pulling pranks on Harris and Proctor. Tony’s life has stakes. He needs those diamonds back or he’s gonna get killed. He’s not sympathetic, but considering that he is always foiled by circumstance at every turn, you inevitably start to feel at least a little bad for him after a while. The guy is seriously unlucky. Lassard doesn’t even realize anyone is after him for most of the film. Our “heroes” are simply adrift in the film. In way, this is Tony’s story.
While I didn’t have a problem with Nick, I did have a problem with his “romantic” subplot. For one thing, who gives a shit about Nick? Mahoney was originally written into the film, but Guttenberg had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts with 3 Men and a Baby, so Nick technically is Mahoney. Regardless, I don’t care about Nick. If the movie wants me to be interested in him getting laid it is going to have to try a hell of a lot hard than they did. I swear, the Police Academy sequels have been in a competition to outdo each other over how irrelevant they can make our handsome hero’s love interest. Kate (Janet Jones; Mrs. Wayne Gretzky, in real life) somehow manages to make Sharon Stone’s character in 4 seem well-formed and plot-essential, which is seriously almost impossible to believe. Especially since I already made essentially the same joke about Stone compared with the chick in 3 last time.
As long as we’re talking about Joneses… I was over Michael Winslow’s Jones several films ago, but the character has officially started to wear on me. Enough with his kung fu bit already! We don’t need it in every single film! And are they seriously going to keep giving him new super powers in each film? He can communicate with parrots now??? Is he fucking, Neo? Will the seventh film end with him ascending into the heavens or turning out to be an alien? I hope so.
And once again… Fuck you, Hooks. I hate you so much. You’re the most pointless character ever. Please don’t be in the next film, I’m begging you.
Take That Reality: I’m just gonna say it, I don’t think that anyone can be so fat that simply changing seats on a commercial airliner can cause it to tilt dramatically.
Most Gratuitous T&A: Kate’s introduction, a real ogle-heavy pan up and pan down of her in a bathing suit.
Most Childish Gag: I’ll give it to Proctor getting pulled behind a boat while trying to waterski, then getting out of the water to reveal that the ocean wore a hole in his wetsuit evenly exposing his two butt cheeks.
Best Prank: Gotta give it to the dork prank, in which Nick writes the word “dork” on Harris’ chest in sunscreen while Harris is asleep, sunbathing. I believe this scene inspired a rash of copycat pranks later in life for an entire generation of males.
Best Villain Dialogue: Harris: Some dickhead is standing in my sun.
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue: None.
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: Pretending to be the metal detector at the airport while Harris is trying to pass through, forcing Harris to keep removing items from his person until his pants fall down.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Dear god, no.
Up Next: Police Academy 6: City Under Siege