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 6: City Under Siege (1989)
The Story: A serious crime wave has struck a specific neighborhood in our nameless city, where a gang of thugs (led by none other than Bud the CHUD himself, Gerrit Graham) have pulled off a series of big heists. The area falls under the jurisdiction of Captain Harris, but Harris and his manslave Proctor have been unable to crack the case, so for some reason the Mayor (Kenneth Mars) assigns Lassard to help Harris out. Of course, Lassard brings along his rat pack: Callahan, Hightower, Tackleberry, Hooks, Jones, plus the return of disaster prone Fackler (Bruce Mahler). And officially added to the party, now Lassard’s nephew Nick, from PA5, seems to have moved to the city. Hijinks ensue as our gang tries to uncover the identity of the mysterious mastermind who controls the gang of thugs.
What Works: If we completely ignore jokes/humor, and look at the Police Academy films from a purely academic screenwriting perspective, Police Academy 6 is actually the best written film in the series. The PA films generally don’t have any kind of story. There is just light, ambiguous conflict, then a big action climax that comes out of no where and generally features characters of no importance to the rest of the film. Police Academy 5 had the diamonds subplot, but that only concerned Lassard and the mobsters for most of the film. As inane as the set-up is here, PA6 has a very focused plot, that for once brings all our characters together for a similar purpose, from beginning to end. So that’s nice.
Our gang of villains isn’t too bad. As a childhood fan of C.H.U.D. II: Bud the CHUD and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, I’m always down for some Gerrit Graham. And there is some inherent fun in finally giving Hightower a super strong foe to battle — Ox (Darwyn Swalve). Their big showdown isn’t really that epic or exciting, but I appreciate the effort; I like that we hear thunder whenever they punch each other. And to a lesser extent each of our other relevant male heroes finds a comparable adversary during the climax — Jones does kung fu with his foe; Tackleberry gets a weapons guy; Nick goes after the mastermind.
The film has a couple good throwaway bits, like when Lassard walks into a pool hall and all the lowlifes at the bar start covertly tossing their weapons away. And though its a dumb gag, I enjoyed a bit where Fackler is controlling traffic with lightwands during a power outage — moths are drawn to the light of his lightwands, so he starts swatting at them, which of course confuses all the cars and causes a massive wreck. That’s just good simple visual comedy right there.
There are also two blink and you’ll miss it cameos by feature somebodies. Smallville‘s Allison Mack shows up as a little girl on a bus, and though I can’t find any verification on-line, I swear to you that Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris is an extra in an early scene with Callahan at the gym.
Also, this is the PA film in which Jones puts some random junk in his shirt and pretends to be a robot during a fight. It’s extremely stupid but I thought it was the bees knees when I was a kid. So I guess it “works” on some level.
What Doesn’t Work: Pretty much everything else. Despite having the most sound structure and conflict in the series to date, PA6 just isn’t funny. Which is saying something, because its not like the films had been a laugh riot up until now.
Part of the problem is that Harris just doesn’t work as a character anymore, and not even the great G.W. Bailey can save the role. As I bitched about last time, in PA5 Harris was only an antagonist out of momentum from the previous films. Our central characters have all risen high enough that Harris no longer poses a threat to them, so he’s really just the office prick. He’s Dwight from The Office. Now, in a sense, he’s one of our heroes too. And his prolonged partnership with Proctor has rubbed off on him negatively. Now Harris seems like an idiot too. He’s even been given a cliche and obnoxious new idiot trait — he’s one of those characters who says “Don’t interrupt me” when another character tries to alert him to something happening behind his back while he’s busy speechifying. Harris has become a superfluous non-threat to our “good guys.” He isn’t out to stop or defeat them, and is thus now just a fuck-up; like Proctor. It’s sad to see Bailey valiantly struggle through the material he’s given. Same goes for George Gaynes as Lassard, although he’s been valiantly struggling through a franchise that has had no logical use for him for several films now. Harris is the more devastating loss at this juncture.
And now that Harris is nothing more than an annoying co-worker, the level of sadistic prankery lobbed at him by the heroes just feels weird. When our “heroes” accidentally blow up Harris’ car… they all laugh! Ha ha! We destroyed your car! Now you don’t have one! Oops! Douche! Ha ha! They frankly seem like maniacs at times. Like in the film’s resolution, where Hightower attaches a string of balloons to Harris’ chair, so that Harris is carried up into the sky to presumably plummet to his death at some point. Once more, everyone laughs hilariously. Have fun dying, douche! Ha ha!
All of our characters have run their course pretty aggressively at this point. Nick survives slightly because he’s new (even though he’s really just Mahoney), and at least Fackler has been absent for several films. But the rest… zzzzzz. I am seriously in awe that they gave Jones yet another kung fu scene. Enough with the badly dubbed kung fu movie routine! If Jones does a kung fu bit in the next film, I’m punching something. There is an upside to all the other characters becoming boring: this is the first PA sequel in which I didn’t walk away with burning hatred for Hooks. Now I kind of hate everyone. Actually, I felt sorta bad for Hooks here, because they made her and Hightower rap in one scene. You know, cause they’re black. And that’s what black people do. They rap. Right? Man, watching Bubba Smith try his best to drop some dope rhymes was excruciatingly awkward. I couldn’t even laugh. It just seemed mean on the part of the filmmakers. Don’t make Bubba Smith rap, guys. Jesus.
Speaking of Hooks, it is interesting to what extent the PA films are a boys’ club. Not only do the male characters always greatly outnumber the female characters (which arguably is realistic for a police force), but the writers clearly have no idea what to do with the women. If Callahan isn’t sticking her boobs in someone’s face or getting ogled, she usually isn’t doing anything else. Both Hooks and Callahan are completely absent from the lengthy climax of PA6, in which Nick and the other guys uncover the identity of the mysterious mastermind (it turns out to be the Mayor; spoiler alert!). There is a good 30 minutes towards the end of the film in which the ladies are not even on screen.
Kenneth Mars has delivered some great performances. The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Fletch, Little Mermaid. But this is not one of them. In the beginning his performance is at least tolerable – if cliche Kenneth Mars – when he’s just the Mayor. Here his “gag” is a dorky tick in which he can’t remember commonplace words during conversation. But once he’s unmasked as the mastermind, Scooby-Doo-style, he becomes totally ridiculous. Mars was always prone to being a ham, but this is too much.
Take That Reality: Why would the Commandant of the police academy be brought in to help catch a gang of robbers in the city?
Most Gratuitous T&A: Callahan at the gym, using one of those thigh machines that pulls women’s legs apart.
Most Childish Gag: Harris falling through a hole in the bottom of a moving truck and burning up his shoes as he is forced to run along, Flintstones-style.
Best Prank: Putting superglue on Harris’ chair so it ends up sticking to his ass.
Best Villain Dialogue: Ox says to Hightower right before dropping a pile of scrap metal on him…
Ox: You like heavy metal?
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue: None.
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: For some reason Jones ends up doing a stand-up routine to distract a room full of people. But he does a Jimi Hendrix impression full of crazy electric guitar sounds. If it was all legit, it is pretty damn impressive.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: No. It is 1989. The 80’s are over, man.
Up Next: Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow