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).
Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment
Police Academy 3: Back in Training
Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol
Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach
Police Academy 6: City Under Siege
The Installment: Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994)
The Story: A Russian mobster named Konstantine Konali (Ron Perlman) is laundering money through a video game business, and has plans to use his popular video game to steal some important passwords from around the world. The Commandant (Christopher Lee) of a Russian police academy somehow talks his superiors into letting him bring in Commandant Lassard and his ragtag group of nutjobs to assist in taking down Konali. Our motley crew have been trimmed a bit since last time. Gone are Nick, Hightower, Hooks (thank god), Fackler (again), and even Proctor, which leaves us with just Tackleberry, Jones, Callahan, and Harris. Our only new member is Cadet Kyle Connors (Charlie Schlatter, from the short-lived Ferris Bueller TV series), a weasel-voiced virgin with crippling vertigo who gets flunked out of the academy but ends up on the mission because he accidentally adds his name to the roster while fucking around on the academy’s computer system. Once in Russia, Lassard experiences some more PA5 style farce, only instead of getting his luggage mixed up, this time he winds up with a Russian family on their way to a funeral instead of riding to the Russian police academy with everyone else. There is a character who is basically the Russian equivalent of Harris, and he hides the fact that he lost Lassard from everyone else. Stuff happens, and Conners has a romance with a Russian cop played by Claire Forlani. Remember her?!
What Works: I was moderately amused by the bellboy (Vladimir Dolinskiy), who the Russian equivalent of Harris pays to sit in Lassard’s room at the academy and pretend to be the old man if anyone knocks, saying “I’m in the bathroom, I’ll meet you there.” But he’s in there for days, and because he doesn’t really speak English, over time his line morphs into nonsense like “Meet me in the bathroom!” I’m a sucker for wacky foreigner gags like that; it’s very Preston Sturges-esque. Plus, the vast majority of our “Russian” characters are just Brits or Americans doing mediocre accents, so its nice to have an actual Russian in here somewhere.
What Doesn’t Work: The quickest way to gain an appreciation for Police Academy 1-6 is to watch Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow. This movie is white hot crap. The degrees to which it manages to be worse than the previous six films is impressive when we stop to consider just how low that bar of standards was set at.
Foremost of PA7‘s crimes against cinema is forcing Christopher Lee to participate in this abortion. Lee is no stranger to schlock, but this is a true low, as he doesn’t even get to do anything fun, aside from kiss George Gaynes on the mouth. Twice. (Is this movie about France? I didn’t get that kissing joke.) At least Lee was such a veteran of B-cinema at this point that he manages to walk away fairly unscathed. The same, sadly, can’t be said for Ron Perlman. If this were the only film you’d seen Perlman in, you’d never want to see him again. His Russian accent is just terrible, and his character and dialogue are terrible. What did you do to Perlman to make him this way PA7! J’Accuse!
As for the rest. Ugh. Where to even begin…
As this movie doesn’t have a single scene that works, it is almost impossible to catalog what doesn’t work. Everything. Every scene, and every character. Nothing works. And everything unfolds at an agonizingly slow pace. Conners is actually a fairly interesting replacement for Nick, in the sense that he isn’t just a carbon copy of Mahoney, but that’s only on paper. In the film, he is swept up with the boring tide. Nothing feels thought out and nothing seems to happen for any reason.
* What is the point of the whole Lassard farce? It’s not like his absence allows for anything novel to occur. Sure, an absent authority figure is often the set-up for a comedy, but Lassard is a moronic disaster who doesn’t care about rules and generally breaks anything he touches (although in this movie he suddenly possesses the ability to make impossible basketball shots whenever he likes). It’s not like him being around would have actually brought about Konali’s capture any faster.
* Why are three Russian gymnasts added to the team late in the game? They’re Russian cadets, but we meet them in a room where they’re inexplicably doing flips and throwing around paint. They have no dialogue, just cartoony ADR that makes them seem like those Eastern European gymnast beetles from A Bug’s Life. Shouldn’t we have met them in Act I?
* What is the point of the scene in which Jones randomly gives a little kid a pep talk after he is menaced by tween BMX bullies? What was Jones even doing in that park watching kids perform BMX tricks?
* When Konali is at the ballet, why on Earth would Harris dress as a ballerina (make-up included) and go out on stage to dance? Even in a stupid Police Academy movie, how is that supposed to help him catch a guy sitting in the audience? Maybe some dialogue explaining his illogical plan could have helped grease the wheels here. And further more, when Tackleberry spots Harris, seeming to acknowledge what an illogical plans this is, why the fucking fuck does he too put on a costume and make-up to get Harris off stage? I’m pretty sure that is making things worse.
Of course, we couldn’t conclude the series without Jones displaying his most ridiculous superpower to date. It was pretty crazy when he communicated with a parrot in PA5, but at least a parrot is a living thing. In PA7 Jones communicates with a wall safe. He actually opens a wall safe by making safe-opening sound FX, which the safe seems compelled to copy itself. Now, mind you, this is just a regular safe. Not some kind of fancy automated or sound activated safe. It has old-school tumblers and gears. It is not capable of automated movement. With this same reasoning, Jones should be able to make someone’s pants split by making a pants splitting sounds, or make Harris shit his pants by making shitting sounds. Although…hmm…in PA4 I complained that Harris reacted as though he actually farted when Jones made farting sound FX in court… holy shit! JONES CAN MAKE PEOPLE FART!
Take That Reality: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure if a dog pees on the lens of a periscope, it won’t spray out into someone’s face on the other end.
Most Gratuitous T&A: Callahan emerging from a doorway, boobs first, with Jaws-like music accompanying.
Most Childish Gag: While farcically hanging with the Russian family, during a dinner scene Lassard accidentally spits a hard-boiled egg into a man’s mouth. Then that guy spits it back into Lassard’s mouth. Then Lassard spits it back into the guy’s mouth. And everyone laughs.
Best Prank: There really isn’t any prankery in this film. At least not by the PA standards of prankery.
Best Villain Dialogue: None.
Best Rascally Hero Dialogue: None.
Best Jones Sound Effect Bit: While pretending to be a bartender, Jones pretends his mouth in a blender and “mixes” a drink for Conner. Then spits the drink into a glass.
Should There Have Been A Sequel: Fuck off.
Franchise Assessment: The Police Academy franchise didn’t stop here. There was a short-lived animated series in the late 80’s, and an even shorter-lived live-action series that aired in 1997. But neither are readily available through legal channels. And I’ve found myself gazing just a little too long over the side of cliffs and bridges lately. After PA7 I fear for my safety. This feels like a good place to call it quits.
Police Academy, like Friday the 13th, was an 80’s juggernaut franchise. Six movies in six years. Moving into a sequel immediately after wrapping post-production on the previous entry creates a strange sort of vibe in a franchise. While it obviously doesn’t lend itself to high-quality results, it does foster a pleasant sort of through-line. Especially when so many members of the cast return and the budgets stay the same. Overall, stupid as the humor may be, it is cynical and dismissive to say that the Police Academy franchise is terrible. It’s moronic. But not terrible. There is a difference. If Guttenberg hadn’t stayed for four films, and the rest of the core cast hadn’t stayed for six films; if the films had gone straight-to-video at some point, or there had been several-year gaps between the films — things would have turned out significantly worse (or I suppose “even worse” depending on your own personal feelings). That’s part of why PA7 is such a steamy cinematic dump. Five years isn’t that large a gap between films (there were seven years between Terminator and T2), the fact that there had been no gap between the previous six films made PA7 feel disconnected. Everyone suddenly looks old and the tone isn’t right. PA7 feels like it was produced 15 years after PA6.
While the franchise became increasingly dumber and goofier as it further and further embraced the reality that it was most beloved by children, extremely non-discerning adult males, and slapstick loving foreigners, I think it managed to hang in there for a surprisingly long time, considering. PA5, though still inanely charming in its own ways, is where the franchise lost its footing. And Mahoney leaving had nothing to do with it. The writer in me loved to bitch about the “stuff happens” no-conflict structures of the early PA films, in which the Act III threat would come out of absolutely no where moments before the climax hit. But that format worked for PA. It seems like the more concrete of a story and conflict the films have, the more impossible it is for them to work. The other thing that I loved bitching about early on was how the antagonists (particularly Harris) weren’t actually villainous — our heroes are all sociopaths or dangerously incompetent, after all. This definitely became a problem as the series went on with Harris. Harris is the only character in the entire franchise who changed at all, and he sadly went from one of the best characters in the first film, to absolutely one of the worst characters in the final film. The problem was that initially his “villainous” trait was that he was an uncool part of the system, ‘the man.’ And our heroes, especially Mahoney, were cool rebels. But being uncool and a stickler for rules aren’t exactly the best antagonistic character traits to try and string over multiple films. So eventually Harris just became a bumbling fuck-up whose motivations weren’t always clear. Basically, his primary character trait became that he hates Lassard and wanted to rise above him, and his attempts to do so often led him to act rashly and fuck things up. So he became a fuck up too. It just didn’t work. Harris should’ve left the series after PA5.
By 1997 no one gave a shit about Police Academy anymore. No one wanted a TV show. Though I think PA‘s style of humor and character collection is actually better suited for the small screen. It probably would have been better for the franchise if they’d jumped right into the TV series in 1990 after PA6 while they still had momentum.
The franchise ranked from best to worst:
Police Academy 2
Police Academy 4 & Police Academy 5
Police Academy 3
Police Academy 6
Police Academy 7
Up Next: Well let’s decide, shall we? I’m definitely going to do Planet of the Apes at the end of July leading into the new film. I probably have time to do two short-to-medium length franchises before starting Apes. Which pairing excites people more: Jaws & Phantasm or Jaws & American Ninja or Phantasm & American Ninja?