DRAGNET - DVD of the Week
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: A parody of a classic radio/TV crime series, this spoof is spotty but also pretty funny, and it has a following, largely because of the pairing of its two stars (these days only those of us of a certain age remember the original programs). Now the comedy has received a Blu-ray upgrade from The Shout! Factory, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on June 28, 1987.
“Dragnet” is yet another in the string of incredibly uneven comedies we’ve had so far this summer, but like “Spaceballs,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and the rest, it boasts enough hearty laughs to be worthwhile.
As you no doubt know by now, Dan Aykroyd stars as Joe Friday, nephew of the character played by Jack Webb on the old radio and TV programs, and Aykroyd plays the character just as Webb did — straight-arrow, no tomfoolery, extremely deadpan. “Just the facts, m’am.”
Of course two hours of Aykroyd deadpanning incredibly complex dialogue in a monotone stream would get awfully weary by the first 20 minutes. So the screenwriters (one being Aykroyd himself) have cleverly teamed Friday up with Pep Streebeck, a typically sly, wiseacre smart aleck, womanizing Tom Hanks character, played, as fate would have it, by Tom Hanks.
The teaming allows Hanks to deflate Aykroyd’s pomposity and self-righteous attitude while the audience laughs at both of them. It’s a genius stroke and works very well.
Dan Aykroyd, left, Tom Hanks, Harry Morgan, 'Dragnet'
Unfortunately, there are other aspects that don’t work quite as well, concessions to modern moviemaking that put “Dragnet” in the same league as “Beverly Hills Cop II” so far as explosions, violence (minus “Cop II’s” blood), car chases and gratuitous nudity are concerned. In this case there’s even a rap-music version of the classic “Dragnet” theme to contend with.
But the script is clever and there are enough delightful moments to make “Dragnet” worth it all.
The main story is the relationship between the new LAPD partners, with Friday attempting to straighten out Streebeck while Streebeck attempts to loosen up Friday. Along the way they are investigating strange thefts and attempted murder by a cult know as “P.A.G.A.N.” That’s “People Against Goodness and Normalcy,” of course.
Meanwhile there are subplots galore, with PAGAN stealing a run of porn magazines from publisher Dabney Coleman, who speaks with the most outrageous Southern-lisping accent you’ve ever heard. And linked with PAGAN also is the good reverend Christopher Plummer, also doing an outrageous comic bit, complete with an evil little giggle. Not exactly Capt. Von Trapp.
Then there’s the virgin Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul) … well, you’ll understand if you see the picture.
One of the nicest touches is to have Harry Morgan play Capt. Bill Gannon, promoted from the role Morgan played for three years on TV with Jack Webb.
For the first two-thirds or so, and then again for the final 10 minutes, “Dragnet” is hilarious spoofery, and Aykroyd and Hanks are great together.
When the special effects and stunt guys take over, the movie becomes just another shoot-’em-up, car chase, crash-and-burn epic, causing the film to sag. Fortunately, however, momentum manages to pick up again.
First-time director Tom Mankiewicz, a screenwriter whose credits include “Superman,” “Ladyhawke” and a couple of James Bond pictures, does an admirable job of imitating the style of the old “Dragnet” program most of the way, and the actors perform well under his hand.
And the script, written by Aykroyd, Mankiewicz and Alan Zweibel (a TV writer with two excellent cable programs in his credits, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “Not Necessarily the News”), has some wonderfully witty dialogue, though it’s a bit soft on supporting characters and sight gags.
It’s hit and miss but on the whole “Dragnet” offers a lot of laughs.
The film is rated PG-13, which seems rather tame for the amount of vulgarity and sex jokes it contains; there is also violence and a barroom nude scene.