Monday 28 May 2012

Movie Review: Dragnet (1987)

An attempted comedy that falters early, Dragnet never gains the necessary thrust and spirals ever downwards in a torrent of bad jokes and predictable set-ups. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks do their best to maintain watchability, but they are just about flattened by the coarse material.

Sergeant Joe Friday (Aykroyd) holds his job with the Los Angeles Police Department in the highest regard, and is extremely proud of the City, its citizens, the police force, and the rule of law. Robotic in his mannerisms and strictly by-the-book in his actions, Aykroyd has to break in a new partner, Detective Pep Streebek (Hanks). Soon they are assigned to investigate a series of bizarre crimes perpetrated by a gang calling itself P.A.G.A.N., including the theft of the entire run of the latest edition of Bait magazine, owned by porn publisher Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman).

Friday and Streebek infiltrate the People Against Goodness And Normalcy and find a community of anarchists engaging in ritual human sacrifices. They rescue a virgin, Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul), who recognizes the reverend Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer) as the evil cult leader. Friday loses his job due to over-enthusiasm in arresting the well-respected Whirley, leaving Streebek to find a way to rescue his partner's career and stop Whirley's nefarious plot to control both smut and godliness.

Intended as either a homage or a satire of the famous television series, Dragnet works as neither. The movie struggles against a pervasive stiff dumbness that no amount of star power can remedy, the script (on which four writers laboured, including Aykroyd) failing to generate any spark or wit. The entire exercise is meant to showcase Joe Friday's by-the-book method as a source of laughter, but instead of glittering Friday locks up all the entertainment into his cement personality, leaving the movie with an icy core.

Rather than saving the day and overcoming the lack of central warmth, Tom Hanks as Streebek is given little to do, since it's difficult to play the foil for a frozen cube. In the meantime, all the events are contrived to the point of abject boredom, as director Tom Mankiewicz lurches from one unfunny set piece to the next, with humour that would not get past most eight year olds.

The few good moments are provided by the smallest roles, Christopher Plummer chewing on juicy religious connivance, Dabney Coleman enjoying a Hugh Hefner-inspired bathrobe role and Alexandra Paul spraying her lack of talent all over the screen but nevertheless having fun with a wide-eyed performance as The Virgin Connie Swail.

Dragnet conclusively thumps its head against the bottom of the barrel with a dumbfounding showdown in which an army of bad guys suddenly wield machine guns and engage S.W.A.T. teams in a massive fire fight that would make Rambo proud. The superfluous battle, utterly not in keeping with all that came before it, is just the final admission that while Dragnet may have been seeking just the facts, what it found was a floundering debacle.

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