The Naked Gun

The Naked Gun (1988)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy
Extras: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer

At times, reviewing films can be a difficult task due to the fact that everyone can have a different opinion when it comes to the qualities of a particular movie. This is especially true when critiquing comedies. Due to the fact that ones sense of humor is basically an uncontrollable innate response to certain stimuli, there is no way of knowing what someone is going find amusing. Unless of course we’re talking about a movie that has every kind of joke and gag imaginable. "The Naked Gun" is such a film. Like a insolent child who will do anything for attention, "The Naked Gun’ throws every conceivable kind of joke at the audience, just daring you not to laugh. This comedy classic has now found its way to DVD, compliments of Paramount Home Video.

"The Naked Gun" is based on the short-lived television series "Police Squad!", which was created by the ZAZ team (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, & Jerry Zucker), who were also responsible for "Airplane!" and "Top Secret!" (Actually, "The Naked Gun" is subtitled "From the files of Police Squad!") The television show and the film both follow the exploits of police Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen). "The Naked Gun" opens with Drebin busting up a meeting of international dictators (this is the one scene that really dates the film, as most of these leaders are either dead or have been deposed of). The film then quickly shifts to Drebin’s home base of Los Angeles. When Nordberg (O.J. Simpson), one of the members of Police Squad! is shot while working undercover, Drebin and Captain Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) begin to investigate.

The evidence leads to shipping magnate Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban). In a hilarious scene, Drebin visits Ludwig to ask what he knows about the shooting at the harbor. Ludwig is cooperative and volunteers the services of his assistant, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley). Drebin is immediately smitten by Jane and the two begin to date. Meanwhile, we learn that Ludwig is a criminal mastermind and had hatched a scheme to assassinate Queen Elizabeth on her upcoming visit to Los Angeles. The remainder of the film involves one outrageous scene after another as Drebin tries to prove that Ludwig is behind Nordberg’s shooting. After Drebin learns of Ludwig’s plan to murder the Queen, the film sets up an exciting and incredibly funny climax at a baseball game.

"The Naked Gun" is one of the funniest films ever made. It was written by the ZAZ team along with writer Pat Proft. Typically when you see more than two writers attached to a film, it’s bad news. But in this case, the four writers used their comedic talents to shove a joke into every nook and cranny of this film. Nothing is sacred in "The Naked Gun" and there is no such thing as going too far for a joke. "The Naked Gun" presents us with sight-gags such as pratfalls and bizarre images that contradict, or emphasize the dialogue that is being delivered. On top of this, there are many jokes dealing with language, such as puns, non-sequiturs or malaprops. The great thing about "The Naked Gun" is the diversity of the jokes and the speed at which they are delivered. If you don’t get one joke, or don’t find it particularly funny, just wait a few seconds, another one will come along and try to tickle your funny bone. Also, this film can be enjoyed by those who enjoy both "lowbrow" comedy and "highbrow" humor. (Though, I’m sure that few would consider "The Naked Gun" "highbrow" comedy!)

While "The Naked Gun" is full of great jokes, it is the style of the film that makes everything work. "The Naked Gun" is a spoof of cop shows and all of the actors play their roles very straight. Despite the fact that chaos is going on around them, the actors all remain very calm. There are no "double-takes" or funny reaction shots. Everything is played very straight, thus compounding the humor. Leslie Nielsen proves that he is the king of delivering an incredibly stupid line with a straight face. He is in almost every scene in "The Naked Gun" and is constantly creating hilarious havoc without cracking a smile. Priscilla Presley ends up being on the receiving end of many of Drebin’s gags and proves that she can play the humor straight as well. George Kennedy (who replaced Alan North from the "Police Squad!" TV series) has some great lines playing the straight man to Drebin’s lunacy. And in a surprising role, Ricardo Montalban doesn’t miss a beat in keeping up with all of the comical shenanigans.

Despite all of the silliness in "The Naked Gun", Paramount Home Video appears to have taken the task of bringing the film to DVD very seriously. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is very crisp and clear, showing that care was taken in creating this digital transfer. And while the source print is predominantly free of defects such as scratches or dirt, there is considerable grain evident in many of the shots, especially the numerous stock footage segments. But, the grain is the only real flaw with the video presentation. The colors on the image really stand out. This is particularly in evidence during Drebin’s "lonely walk", where we see the colorful neon signs reflected in the dark, wet streets. Also, the exteriors shot for the baseball game finale look very good. Overall, this is a pretty good video transfer that is also practically free of compression artifacts.

The audio on "The Naked Gun" DVD is a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> presentation. This audio mix renders the dialogue very audible and it is always very clear, being free of any audible hiss. Ira Newborn’s interesting score is well-represented, but it never overpowers the dialogue. However, don’t expect much in the way of surround sound, save for some musical clues, explosions and crowd noise at the baseball game. Also, there wasn’t a great deal of bass response either. But, keep in mind that this is a comedy and it’s the dialogue that’s important.

The DVD brings us an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring co-writer/director David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and actor Peter Tilden, who is unrelated to the actual movie and lists as the commentary’s "host" and apparently is viewing "The Naked Gun" for the first time. To be perfectly frank, this commentary is hilarious! Zucker and Weiss are clearly old friends and have no problem playing off of one another and letting the insults fly. As with the film itself, nothing is sacred during this commentary. I won’t spoil any of the jokes, but you’ll be surprised by how candidly they speak about O.J. Simpson. This is the sort of commentary where the people who didn’t show up for the taping are instantly targets of ridicule. During all of the jokes, Zucker and Weiss do find the time to give the listener a great deal of insight into how the film was made and why "Police Squad!" failed on TV. Unfortunately, the trio are already talking as the movie opens, thus they don’t introduce themselves, making it difficult at times to know who is making the comments. I’ve already listened to this commentary twice, and you true DVD fans know that a commentary has to be good to sit through it more than once!

The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer for the film, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. It would have been nice of Paramount to include some production notes and talent files, especially for those audience members who may be unfamiliar with the "Police Squad!" TV show.

"The Naked Gun" is one of my favorite comedies and I’m very glad that it has finally come to DVD. While some of the jokes have last their luster in the ensuing decade, the majority of the film remains fresh and very funny. "The Naked Gun" DVD gives us an above-par video transfer and a fantastic <$commentary,audio commentary>, which is worth the price of the disc alone. Surely you’ll want to check out this DVD…(you all know the punch-line, so fill it in yourselves.)