All words: Cameron Hatheway
According to Variety last Friday, “The Naked Gun” franchise is getting a reboot with Ed Helms starring as Detective Frank Drebin. The iconic character was first made popular by the late Leslie Nielsen in the short lived “Police Squad!” television series on ABC, which was later adapted into the famous comedy trilogy during the late ’80s–early ’90s by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker.
“The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!,” “The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear,” and “The Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult” all featured some of the best puns, sight gags, and slapstick bits that have ever appeared on film (“Nice beaver.” “Thank you, I just had it stuffed.”) that were enjoyed by countless generations of comedy fans. It resides in the comedy pantheon amongst the greats like “The Three Stooges,” “Get Smart” and “The Pink Panther.”
Unfortunately though, “The Naked Gun” is more than likely to suffer the same fate as the recent “The Three Stooges,” “Get Smart” and “The Pink Panther” reboots of the past decade. Hollywood enjoys going back to the familiar time and time again, rather than creating something original. Sequels and already established franchises are Hollywood’s go-to money makers, especially when attaching popular actors to the project. Fans of the original source material find themselves bitching and moaning (with good reason) about that special movie or series they grew up with soon to be slaughtered by special effects and massive budgets. Comic book fans go through this same song and dance almost every year, but for comedy fans, it’s painful to see something that was once brilliant watered down to pathetically stupid proportions with dick jokes and fart noises aplenty.
“The Three Stooges” reboot made $54 million at the box office, and received a 52 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The “Get Smart” reboot made $230 million, but still received a 51 percent. “The Pink Panther” reboot made $158 million, with a whopping 22 percent from the critics. The sequel did worse, raking in $76 million and 12 percent (12 percent is also the current approval rating of Congress).
Chris Diamantopolous, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso are no Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. Steve Carrel is no Don Adams. Steve Martin is definitely no Peter Sellers, and Ed Helms doesn’t strike me as a Leslie Nielsen by any means.
The brilliance of Nielsen as Drebin was his deadpan delivery. He was always cast in serious roles (check him out in the original “The Poseidon Adventure”) so when he suddenly appears as a doctor in “Airplane” asking people to not call him “Shirley,” you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. In “The Naked Gun” movies, he was not only a grey-haired, hard-boiled detective who was married to the job, but he was also the love interest to a beautiful dame like Priscilla Presley. You never thought of him as a comedian but rather a tough and grizzled father figure; a lovable dope, oblivious to what was happening around him like Mr. Magoo with a badge. Unfortunately/coincidentally, Nielsen also starred in the “Mr. Magoo” live-action movie, which unsurprisingly bombed at the box office.
And then there’s Ed Helms. Helms was originally a comedian and improv performer before getting his start at “The Daily Show,” and later became a regular on the American version of “The Office.” He’s probably best well-known for being a part of the Wolf Pack in “The Hangover” franchise. All he’s ever known is comedy, so what’s going to happen when you put a comedy actor in a semi-serious, deadpan role such as Detective Frank Drebin? Failure, awkwardness, and disappointment, most likely. And yet, the film will probably go on to make $200 million and spawn a sequel. Who’s going to play Nordberg? Ray Lewis is the obvious choice; Simpson and Lewis both used to play football, and both got away with murder.
While it’s nice to see Thomas Lennon and R. Ben Garant still getting work (they’re writing the script), being known as the writers behind the “Night at the Museum” movies and the “Reno 911!” series doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Yes, “Reno 911!” has some gags similar to “The Naked Gun,” but how do you improve on the original in such a manner that will not only make it past the studio executive’s grubby claws, yet still feel fresh and new? Did they even get the blessing of Abrahams and the Zucker brothers? Probably, seeing how the Zuckers are synonymous with the “Scary Movie” franchises nowadays, and could probably use the royalties.
In an environment where every classic comedy is no longer safe, what’s next on the chopping block? A “Marx Brothers” movie starring The Lonely Island with Andy Samburg as Groucho? “Some Like It Hot” with Vince Vaughan, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lawrence? “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” starring Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell? “The Odd Couple” with Seth Rogen and James Franco? “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?” Oh wait, they already did that and it was called “Rat Race.” I better stop before some producer says “That’s not a bad idea,” and I’m offered a job in Hollywood.