Aykroyd is at his comedic best as the namesake nephew of Detective Sgt. Joe Friday. Like his uncle, he’s a blue-suited, by-the-rules cop who reluctantly joins forces with his footloose partner Pep Streebek (Hanks) to rescue the City of Angels from the machinations of a power-mad Reverend and corrupt Police Commissioner.
And those are “just the facts” of this hysterically funny action-comedy.
eyelights: the original theme. the narration.
eyesores: the weak script. the crummy jokes. the poor casting. the poor editing.
“I beg your pardon, what is this? Some kind of a feeble joke?”
‘Dragnet’ is a 1987 motion picture based the iconic radio and television police procedural series. Co-written by and starring Dan Aykroyd, who was a huge fan of ‘Dragnet’ creator and star Jack Webb, this version is a comedy that partly spoofs the original show.
Aykroyd plays Sergeant Joe Friday (nephew of the original), a police officer whose style, ethics and code of conduct are firmly rooted in the past. Saddled with a more lackadaisical partner (played by Tom Hanks), he is tasked with investigating a series of thefts.
These thefts lead to a new criminal organization called P.A.G.A.N., whose aims are mysterious. Unfortunately, the investigation doesn’t go quite as planned, and Friday is not just subjected to pressure from the Police Commissioner but has to contend with many setbacks.
Or might have, had the writing and performances been up to snuff. But, alas, ‘Dragnet’ is the laziest kind of comedy, dabbling in clichés and reheating middle-of-the-road one-liners. Even the dialogues are undemanding, basically spoon-feeding the audience.
For instance, while looking for clues, Detective Streebek finds a phone number (which we clearly see) and he turns to Sergeant Friday to say:
“Hey, a phone number. Think it might mean something?”
Genius. Tonight’s police investigators at work, ladies and gentlemen! Give them a hand! (No, I mean it: they clearly need assistance!)
Another example of poor writing is when Friday and Streebek catch up with their primary suspect, who so happens to be one of the victims’ chauffeur. Even though he’s in a limo, by a dock, he leads them on a really lame chase instead of surrendering – as if he could escape.
Which, somehow, he manages to do anyway.
(Of course he does.)
And there are the cheap gags, like having the uptight Sgt. Friday go undercover dressed as a punk, à la ‘Police Academy 2’ – which, is hardly the summum of hilarity, if it must be pointed out. It’s a tired sight gag that isn’t at all funny, and it isn’t even delivered with style.
Naturally, this lands them at a P.A.G.A.N. soirée out of nothing but sheer luck and they save a virginal young woman who is about to be sacrificed in what must be the lamest snake pit sequence imaginable. And yes, they somehow escape even though they’re surrounded.
The worst of it is that the chief villain is unmasked randomly by the young woman at this same event and she’s the only person to see his face. He shouldn’t have been in the melee anyway. But he was. Then they happen to go to the same restaurant as he does and she recognizes him.
Wow! How convenient! And what a coincidence!
Anyway, given the man’s stature and political clout, Friday’s accusations are rebuked by his superiors – even though Friday has had a solid career and reputation thus far. As one can expect, he is disgraced, redeems himself, and he gets the girl. All before dawn.
The performances don’t help one bit: Aykroyd can’t do serious, so he mugs instead. Right from the start, in the opening shots, dumpy Dan can’t even make the character walk naturally. Meanwhile, Hanks pretty much sleepwalks his watered-downed character through the picture.
And Alexandra Paul, who plays Friday’s love interest, absolutely stinks up the screen, lobbing her lines like they’re fifty-pound rocks. Man, she’s bad. Only Christopher Plummer is amusing, playing Reverend Jonathan Whirley in a corny and weird, Anthony Perkins-ish, fashion.
If the writing sucks, the direction and editing does the picture no favour either; it is so weak that, in one scene, Hanks is actually reading the P.A.G.A.N. manifesto before he opens the folder. Similarly, some scenes shift from night to day as though someone had flicked a switch.
Even the music is pretty bad. The credits open with a tacky recreation of the original theme by Art Of Noise, featuring soundbites. The picture ends with a rap number by Aykroyd. !@#$ And the score itself has ’80s flourishes in it whilst also ripping off ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.
Frankly, the only things that keeps this crappy snoozefest together is the recurring theme music itself and the interstitial narration, both adding kitschy pomp. Without them, however, ‘Dragnet’ would just be a series of incredibly unfunny scenes loosely tied together.
It’s a real drag.
Date of viewing: May 26, 2015