Engaging 'Naked Gun 2 1/2 ' continues drab Drebin's hilarious misadventures


June 28, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I know I've always wanted to see Barbara Bush hanging in her underwear off a White House balcony, and, dammit, I'll bet you have, too. And that's why "The Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear," was right up my alley, first lady-wise.

It's about half as funny as the original "Naked Gun," but that nevertheless makes it one of the funniest movies of the year. (It has seven fewer laughs than "City Slickers," but no male bonding.)

Created by one third of the Zucker-Zucker-Abrahams team (David Z.) that has built a comedy empire on the basis of caca jokes while attempting to make the world safe for eighth-grade humor, the movie only fitfully achieves that totally destructive laugh-till-you-urp quality, but is nevertheless quite engaging, except when it's boring.

Rude, smirky, cruel (especially to poor Mrs. Bush, who's shown herself to be a pretty good sport but may have that talent sorely tested in the weeks to come), whiny, it behaves like any well-bred adolescent raised with too much allowance, too much attention and no chores.

Of course, the story, such as it is or isn't (and it's more isn't than is), features the indefatigable Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin, the cop who is so dumb his IQ has to be written lower case and with Roman numerals -- iq XXXVI. Nielsen's Drebin is one of '80s and '90s movies' enduring creations, because Nielsen can play off 30 boring years of conventional authoritarian heroism in bland, cheap TV series (like "The New Breed") and utterly forgettable movies like "Project: Kill."

Leslie Nielsen is funny because Frank Drebin isn't. It's a curiously subtle device: With the absolute certainty of a zealot and complete lack of self-awareness, he plunges ahead, his eye on the ball, his hands on the wheel, his knees locked, his elbows loose, his nose to the grindstone, completely oblivious to the fact that where he goes, catastrophe is unleashed, the world is destroyed, people left and right (first ladies included) are totaled.

The story that unleashes Frank is tepid, a bit sanctimonious on the PC scale, but serviceable as a platform for the Zucker-Nielsen madness. The president (played by an imitator not nearly as gifted as Dana Carvey on "Saturday Night Live") announces that he's prepared to follow the energy conservation measures advocated by his enerzgy czar, which leads Big Oil, Big Business and Big Capitalism, fronted by the oily Robert Goulet, to decide to kidnap him and substitute a double.

Thus it falls to Drebin, in a Washington, D.C. that sports a surprising abundance of palm trees (actually it's San Pedro, Calif.) to free him. That's about it. From this frail vessel of a story, Nielsen deconstructs the known world, with poor Mrs. Bush (another nameless stand-in) catching the brunt of his bumbles; she's like one of those punch-'em dolls, who keep popping back up.

Some of the dumbest stuff works the best, and, as before, Zucker has much better luck with physical than verbal. He and Nielsen have uncanny gifts for stringing together sequences of comic destruction; the one that closes the movie is such a corker that it more or less finesses some earlier dead spots. The dialogue is completely moronic, and the more moronic you are, the funnier you will find it.

'The Naked Gun 2 1/2 :

The Smell of Fear'

Starring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley.

Directed by David Zucker.

Released by Paramount.

Rated PG-13.


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