Police Academy: The Complete Collection Review
The 80s. The one decade that sticks out like a sore thumb. It followed World War II, Vietnam and even the Jackson Five. So, why are are the years between ‘80 and ‘89 so hated? The short answer is the culture. Bad clothes, bad hair, even badly designed cars. It also inflicted many pains on the film industry, and gave birth to what has become known as “the franchise”.
Don’t get me wrong - a franchise can be a wonderful thing in cinema. The Indiana Jones series, and the Back to the Future trilogy all bare great memories from that decade of trash, but for some inexplicable reason, the franchise exploded. Did we really need 10 Friday the 13th movies? For that matter, did we need 7 Nightmare on Elm Street’s? Not really. And there we have it - the reason why we long to forget the 1980s. Greed. The studios got greedy, and amidst the fight to open your wallets, someone created Police Academy.
Since I was born during this era, my memories are somewhat hazy, but I remember the alarming rate of Police Academy sequels during my childhood. And since I was a child and didn’t know any better, I loved them. I can actually admit that now. The comedy was inane, the situations ridiculous, and the cast always seemed to make fools of themselves in the name of entertainment. With the exception of the Muppets, the Police Academy series was tailor-made for kids. In fact, now I mention it, the cast do resemble a live action version of Jim Henson’s creation. Freaky.
So, here we have it. In 2004, all 7 Police Academy films have been unleashed on DVD, in a brand new box set. Warner clearly had a lot of fans asking for this series, since it has arrived in above-average condition. Each film boasts new transfers, and souped-up sound mixes, so if you’re a fan, you should be in heaven. But the 80s are over. Cooler minds have prevailed, and I found it a chore watching these films. Still, the original film remains fun, even if you don’t want to admit it! Take a deep breath - we’re going in...
Police Academy - 6/10
The original. The one that started it all. And since it meant well, we can cut it some slack. Time has treated Police Academy well, and out of the 7 films, it is the only one to stand up. Breezy comedy has never been so laid back, and like Porky’s, what it lacks in wit, it makes up for in crude humour. Stuffed with wild characters, the first film is also aided by the one and the only Steve Guttenberg. A legend in his own right, and the butt of many a joke, the common consensus is that a Police Academy flick with Guttenberg is one of the best. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that the first film is entertaining. Not exceptional, but not painful either. Its a glimpse into a time when the world wasn’t so dangerous, and for that reason, its charm has remained intact.
Police Academy had a decent premise, a plot that was stretched to vanishing point throughout the sequels. Thanks to a new initiative by an unsuspecting mayor, “no longer would height, weight, sex, education, or physical strength be used to keep new recruits out of the Metropolitan Police Academy”. A big mistake, since the new recruits are hardly fit for the force. Led by the well-meaning, but drippy Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes), it’s going to be a bumpy ride training the new guns. Throwing petrol onto the fire, is Carey Mahoney (Guttenberg), the chauvinistic wise-cracker, whose bad boy charisma plants him in trouble constantly. But he isn’t the only one causing ripples in the ranks. Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith) is built like a house, proud of his ethnicity, and won’t take crap from anyone. But he’s also got a heart of gold.
Then, there’s Laverne Hooks (Marion Ramsey), a timid woman who would be pushed over by a gust of wind. But push her too far, and you’ll be the one blowing in the wind. Eugene Tackleberry (David Graf) is obsessed with guns. They’re his livelihood, and he doesn’t miss a chance to use them. Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow) has one major talent, and he milks it for all its worth. He can literally imitate any sound he wants to. Now there’s a party piece! Adding sex appeal to the ranks is Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), a woman who is tough and resourceful, but also dang hot. And finally, the other regular character, Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey), the captain of the police who takes his job far too seriously, and has a major distaste for Mahoney. Suffice to say, he spends most of the film looking like an idiot...
And that is pretty much it for the plot. We are introduced to this motley crew, followed by a steady stream of comedic scenarios; some of which seem tame today. Directed with little flair by Hugh Wilson, the film is hardly a technical tour de force. Instead, the filmmaker allows the cast to make the material work, and despite a mostly lethargic pace, Police Academy works. It was a major success in 1984, and I can understand why. It has a real delight in making authority seem ignorant and sloppy. It embodies the feeling of the decade, that the government shouldn’t be trusted, a notion emphasised by Mahoney. Guttenberg’s role is the best of the series, a fitting mantle considering he has the lead part here. He’s delightfully anti-establishment, loves trouble, and has a fair share of one-liners. He is a breath of fresh air amongst the stereotypes, yet it is mildly disappointing when Mahoney becomes the thing he hated - an upstanding officer of the law. But, you saw that coming, right?
The screenplay by Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Wilson is mostly shambolic in execution, but also well suited to the characters. There are some very funny moments peppered throughout. Who could forget the part when Larvell simulates gun fire in the busy police station? Or Tackleberry’s out-of-control moment on the firing range? Or even, the recurring joke of the Blue Oyster Bar, where two hetero officers meet their opposites? If you remember these sequences, Police Academy will probably make you smile. There are even some surprises to be had. I had totally forgotten about Kim Cattrall’s involvement. Seen here as Mahoney’s love interest, the pre-Sex and the City starlet will get men hot under the collar. And there is even a nod toward racism in the force. Yes, you did read that right. As the quiet Laverne fails a driving test, a racial slur is uttered. I then watched as Hightower tipped the police car over in anger. Such a moment would have washed over me a kid, and it took me by surprise. But I shouldn’t read too much into it. This is Police Academy, after all.
A minor classic, the original Police Academy remains gentle viewing, enlivened by a few memorable sequences. The under-the-podium gag, the horse scene, and the gratuitous campfire nudity are all present and correct. Add Robert Folk’s memorable theme music, and this is a trip down memory lane. If only the sequels were so enjoyable...
Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment - 4/10
“Watch out! They've got to clean up the worst crime district in the world. But that's no problem. They're the worst police force in the universe”.
A year later, Warner Bros. followed-up the surprise success of Wilson’s film, with the obligatory sequel. This time, the characters would hit the streets as officers - surely a bad idea in anyone’s book. It was also a bad idea to make the film anyway. Only producer Paul Maslansky returned to make the film, so the creative reigns fell to new director Jerry Paris, and writers Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield. While Their First Assignment is far from the worst of the series, it lacks the feeling of warmth or hilarity of its predecessor. There is some fun to be had, but even this early in the series, the laughs are thin on the ground...
Just like the original, the plot is scarce. A new gang has moved into the city, operated by the manic Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait - in his first of three appearances). Naturally, only the police force can stop them. Police Academy 2 was certainly a quickie in terms of production. It was also cheaper than its predecessor, without sacrificing the bulk of the cast. That said, G.W. Bailey is absent this time around, replaced by the similar Art Metrano, who fills Lt. Mauser with a familiar hatred of Mahoney. The pair, inevitably, oppose each other throughout. Apart from Zed’s gang rampaging through the streets, this is pretty much the same film as the original, with some limp sub-plots thrown in. For instance, the gung-ho Tackleberry falls in love with his new partner, Sgt. Kirkland (Colleen Camp), a decent addition to the formula one might say, but it fails to go anywhere interesting. Also disheartening, is the treatment of Bubba Smith’s Hightower. He mumbles about three lines in the entire film. A waste of a good character. But most importantly, the film just isn’t funny for long stretches of celluloid, and only one action scene lingers in the memory - the accidental destruction of a jewellery store, as Tackleberry hits the crime scene. Literally.
The reason this film holds together, is still Guttenberg. And due to his rising popularity in 1986, this film is literally dominated by Mahoney - more so than part 1. Paris and the writers spend so much time giving their lead things to do, that the rest of the “Academy” have little else to do. Still, Guttenberg delivers his lines with heart, and makes some of the situations better than they might have been. If only he’d said no to more sequels - his career might have been salvaged. An average comedy sequel, that is hindered by Goldthwaite’s Zed. What seemed funny in ‘86 is now truly irritating. Goldthwaite screeches his way through every sequence, testing our patience. Most fans will skip this instalment, moving quickly on to --
Police Academy 3: Back in Training - 5/10
“Run for cover!”
Probably the best sequel in the series, Back in Training was also helmed by Paris, who passed away in the same year. A mild improvement on part 2, it gets things back to basics, referencing the original throughout. Yep, the boys are back at the Academy! While the laughs are still few and far between, there is something oddly compelling about this instalment that makes it watchable...
The late Paris had certainly improved in the year since his previous effort. Back in Training boasts a better pace, and the script is certainly more crafted. Being on familiar turf probably helped too - this has some of Police Academy’s best traits, and it generates the same likeable atmosphere. Once more, there’s no specific plot, and since it mirrors the first film ever so closely, there aren’t many surprises. The core cast reunite (still minus Bailey), and they’re still enthusiastic about their roles. Though Guttenberg takes centre-stage once again, Back in Training introduced a new onslaught of cadets. There’s Asian exchange student Nogata (Brian Tochi), who falls hopelessly in love with Callahan. We also discover that Tackleberry has a brother-in-law - Bud Kirkland (Andrew Paris), a forgettable character that managed to slip into the next film too. Causing friction through the ranks is Metrano, who returns as Mauser. The most “interesting” development though, is Zed, who switches sides and becomes a cadet. He brings Sweetchuck along for the ride - the jewellery store owner he harassed previously. Zed’s meaningless droning, coupled with Sweetchuck’s nervous geek, redefine the term “odd couple”.
Also watch out for a neat homage to Wilson’s film. Georgina Spevlin, who fans will remember as the under-the-podium hooker, once again shows up at the Academy. This time, she locks a cadet out of a hotel room while he’s naked, only for him to wander into the Blue Oyster bar. It conforms to the classic American rule of gag repetition, but works nonetheless. A decent last hurrah for the series, it’s all downhill from here.
Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol - 4/10
“Take off with the original cast... and some new civilian recruits as they take to the streets and the skies to fight crime!”
Citizens on Patrol marks the descent of the franchise into meltdown, and from the first few frames, it’s a limp and depressing heap. Producer Paul Maslansky still had hope (and a need for cash), since part 4 also turned out to be a hit at the international box office. Though, judging by the film, it is a little hard to understand the appeal. The first three are classics next to this muddled mess. However, that might be harsh, since it isn’t the worst of the saga (guess which one that honour falls to...) In all due respect though, this just reeks of studio greed that so typified the decade. It’s layered so thick, that it drowns out any comedy. Its cinema by-the-numbers, and by this point, the formula had its own Idiot guide.
What can I really say about Citizens on Patrol that is complimentary? I try to look for the good in every motion picture, and there are a few pluses that contribute to the 4/10 grade. The plot itself should have been used a couple films back, since it is one of the better efforts. This time, Lassard develops a new scheme - C.O.P. (Citizens on Patrol), that allows any member of the public to assist the police force in their efforts. This could have made way for utter chaos, with the city exploiting this new scheme for their own good. But the script doesn’t go in that direction, instead it focuses on Harris’s efforts to foil Lassard’s plan. So, this is exactly the same as the other films, though the return of Bailey to the fold was treated with delight by series devotees. He’s the usual gruff law-enforcer, but Bailey is put in the dark by Goldthwaite and Kazurinski, who are the only worthwhile protagonists here. Even Guttenberg looks bored, and who could blame him? This ship is sinking slowly into a bottomless pit...
Director Jim Drake doesn’t try. He was thinking of the paycheque, and thus, part 4 has no life. If you must see the film, it’s worth noting that Sharon Stone has a pre-Basic Instinct performance as one of Mahoney’s love interests. Also memorable (for all the wrong reasons) is the “action” set piece that will make you howl with unintentional laughter. You haven’t lived until you see the Academy huddled inside a hot air balloon...I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach - 3/10
“Hold everything! The cadets are dropping in on Miami Beach for an all new adventure”.
With the series now a staple of mediocrity, Warners trudged on regardless with the fifth chapter. Assignment Miami Beach adds some new strings to its bow, but it is still the same old formula stretched over 90 painful minutes. The setting is a nice change of pace, but all of the sunshine in the world couldn’t make a shoddy script and lacklustre direction seem adequate.
As the story begins, we realise that Captain Harris is happy. Makes a change. It appears that Lassard has reached retirement age, resulting in the Captain’s promotion. For his body of work, the Academy award Lassard with the “Policeman of the Year” mantle, at the Miami Beach convention. However, smiles (and laughter) soon fades away, when Lassard is kidnapped by a group of crooks in search of their lost diamonds. Though it is clear director Alan Meyerson wanted to bring some new ingredients to this well-eaten mix, the results are decidedly patchy. Being away from the Academy once again helps to diffuse the series signature, and the attempt at “plot” seems forced. Hardly anything works here - the jokes fall flat, the pace is non-existent, and the absence of Guttenberg nails the coffin lid shut. The cast go through the motions, as you’d expect, and once again, Harris has nefarious motives. You’ve seen this all before, and better, I might add.
Only a few patches of inspiration seep through, making that Chapter Selection page a useful tool. If I were you, skip directly to David Graf’s ever-eccentric Tackleberry, since he gets some new fire power to play with. Also decent, is the interaction of Harris and Proctor (Lance Kinsey), who clearly realise they are in a comedy, and try to raise laughter. Watching Miami Beach is like running a marathon. Tiresome work.
Police Academy 6: City Under Siege - 4/10
“The Grads are going undercover in the city to unmask the mastermind of crime”.
More successful than Assignment Miami Beach, is the sixth chapter, City Under Siege, directed with some flair by Peter Bonerz, whose unfortunate name is one of the many laughs during the credits. Bonerz actually seems bothered about the material, which lends this chapter some fun, if not enough. The main conceit is the most commercial; a plot usually utilised for straight buddy cop pictures. This time, the city is placed on red alert after a crime wave hits the streets. Orchestrated by a mystery villain, the Academy are doing everything in their power to bring this mad man to justice! Or, to be more precise, stumbling into trouble and accidentally saving the day...
It took 6 movies to reach this point, but the actors have finally realised that they are in a stinker of a franchise. They seem more relaxed, safe in the knowledge that the material isn’t decent, and that the film will be a hit anyway. All of the crew is here (except Mahoney, Zed and Sweetchuck), and the family vibe from working on these films is palatable. Sure, the jokes are a one-way ticket to Lameville, and the trademark slapstick needs to be papered over, but at least its “so bad its good”. The workable story, and a collection of amusing film parodies, raises this an iota above its predecessor.
Stephen J. Curwick will never be awarded for his writing, but at least he gives the actors something to do - an admirable feat considering characterisation was usually an afterthought in this series. Bubba Smith finally steps up to the challenge, filling Mahoney’s vacant shoes. Hightower gets much of the best material here, followed only by Michael Winslow, who is a major player in the films conclusion. Just to hear him doing his “dubbed Bruce Lee” routine is more interesting than the bulk of this films humour. It’s a shame that they couldn’t end this dreaded turkey here, since the worst was yet to come...
Police Academy: Mission to Moscow - 1/10
“Kicking buttski. Making you laughski. The Academy is backski!”
The end of the road is in sight. It looks good - but first we’ve got to go on a Mission to Moscow. Not only is this 7th film the worst of the saga, its also the nadir of cinema. Possibly the weakest film I’ve ever had to review, Mission to Moscow was supposed to bring the franchise into the 90s with force. But, as critics had foreseen, it was hardly worth the wait. Audiences too, seemed to realise that they’d spent an awful lot of money on this terrible train wreck, and we’ve yet to see another chapter in the Academy journals. A blessing, indeed.
Director Alan Metter wastes a wonderful supporting cast - which includes Christopher Lee and Ron Perlman - and uses the background of Moscow to hide the sheer ineptitude of his product. It’s essentially a case of “same film, different place”. There isn’t really a valid reason why the team would need to go to Moscow either - something about the Russian Mafia controlling the world through computer games. But why on earth would the Russian authorities call an American Police Academy for help? Yes, logic hardly gets a look in, and the film hands out poor sequences one after another. Quite why Perlman was drawn to this project is anyone’s guess, and he struggles to keep a straight face as the films Mafia boss. Even the mighty Lee is made a fool, since he has to kiss Lassard on the lips. At least we have a bit of decent eye candy - the gorgeous Claire Forlani shows up as a translator, but it’s all for nothing. Mission to Moscow is unbelievably awful, even making the main characters seem worthless. Seen here, is a sickly sweet sub-plot that has Lassard entering the home of a Russian family, or Captain Harris once again acting a pratt (on stage as a ballerina in one sequence, or the “dog pee in the eye” shot in another).
No words can describe Mission to Moscow. It’s positively excruciating. But it does offer one ray of hope - it closed the Police Academy doors. Hopefully, they'll stay that way...
Warner’s box set is an admirable collection, presenting 7 films on 7 discs (Paramount, take note!). While the films go from average to downright pathetic, Warner have put a lot of effort into making this set worthwhile for fans. If you’ve been waiting for this release with anticipation (you know who you are), then you should be satisfied...
Before I delve into the nitty-gritty, let me talk about the packaging. It seems we’ve been given a sweeter deal than our US cousins. Over in the States, each disc was given a snapper box - the “classic” Warner affair, that is slowly (and thankfully) leaving our shelves. Region 2 audiences get the amaray cases. While that’s all well and good, there is a downside. The box that houses the individual discs, is made from fairly weak cardboard. Just picking up the set is enough for it to become lop-sided. This puppy bends easily. So, if you want it to stay in good condition, you’d be wise to take care.
The Look and Sound
The transfers, despite being a step up from former releases, are inconsistent. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 are presented in 1.85:1 anamporphic widescreen with mono audio tracks (though Mission to Moscow also has Dolby 2.0 stereo). Parts 5 and 6, for some inexplicable reason, feature full-frame video. This is something that is sure to annoy a great deal of people, and it certainly bothered me. Lumped in the middle of this set, these non-anamorphic transfers bring down the grade, since it should have been avoided...
Having said that, the real issue here is picture quality. All of the films looks better than their VHS counterparts, and it shouldn’t surprise you that the original Police Academy has been given a wonderful remaster. The image is reasonably sharp and clear, though it can sometimes seem a little dark or muted in terms of colour. But it doesn’t disappoint - it hasn’t looked this good since 1985. The same can be said for the remaining titles, but each of them feature an unhealthy amount of grain or wear on the print. Despite these caveats, they sure look good, and the more recent the film, the better the transfer. Go figure.
As for audio, it’s a mixed bag like the video, but it still pleases. These films were crying out for full-on stereo re-mixes. I know they’re comedy films, but even this genre needs some pizzazz in the sound department. The mono tracks are mostly flat and uninspired, but it gets the job done. The dialogue and music are above-average in many respects, but don’t expect any fancy effects. Naturally, Mission to Moscow has the best track, using the stereo mix to neat effect. Ultimately, an average but acceptable presentation overall.
No points for guessing that the first Police Academy gets the best disc, shown here as a “20th Anniversary Edition”. The menus are cleverly animated - a police officer’s desk, replete with boiling coffee and half-eaten doughnut. There’s nothing like a stereotype to raise a laugh, is there? As soon as the disc loads, the theme music bursts from the speakers, setting the tone nicely...
Audio commentary by Steve Guttenberg, Michael Winslow, Leslie Eaterbrook, G.W. Bailey, director Hugh Wilson, and producer Paul Maslansky
A highly entertaining track, no doubt due to the sheer number of participants. They look back on the film with affection, and there is a light atmosphere from the get-go. Wilson and Maslansky try to cover a few production anecdotes, but are mostly overshadowed by the jovial nature of the cast, who make fun of the feature and reminisce at the same time. Some highlights include Winslow pleading for work (in a comedic nature, of course), and the group’s comments about Kim Cattrall and her recent rise to stardom. Guttenberg treats the whole affair surprisingly well, and there is no indication that he regrets making the film. In fact, it was clearly one of his better experiences. A great track.
“Behind Academy Doors: Secret Files Revealed”
Dubbed as a “reunion documentary”, this neat featurette on the first film runs nearly 20 minutes, and is fairly comprehensive without repeating the commentary too much. It includes talking head material with the above participants, as well as Bubba Smith, Marion Ramsay and George Gaynes. It’s a decent assessment of the films production, though it does get a little congratulatory toward the end. The best part though, is certainly Guttenberg, Smith and Gaynes sitting together and remembering the various scenes throughout the film, as well as the dialogue. If you’re a fan, you’ll love this documentary.
But that’s not all folks! Back in Training has a few additional scenes that hit the cutting room floor, and the sequels have featurettes too! Each of them runs about 10 minutes each, and include a fair number of the cast. They are worth watching at least once, and follow the format of the first disc.
They are (in order):
“Accidental Heroes: The Best Of”
“All Washed Up: Floating Memories”
“Remembering a Lofty Investigation”
“Mistaken Identity: Case Re-Opened”
“Unholy Alliance: A Retrospective”
And finally, “Underneath the Mission”.
Police Academy cultists should be pinching themselves! The set is rounded off by the theatrical trailers, available on each individual title.
Film historians will be forever-baffled by the success of Police Academy and its sequels. A good idea replicated far too many times, those who like the first film will be well served by the “20th Anniversary Edition”, available separately. If you are a dedicated fan - the 10 of you in existence - this set should find a home in your collection. Warner deserve credit for releasing them in the same package (despite the inconsistencies in sound and picture). As for me, I’m taking a break from low-brow comedy...for now...