Police Academy

A short history of an 80's mainstay
June 14, 2010

Okay, so 1984's "POLICE ACADEMY" is hardly a masterpiece, but if you were alive in the 80's, you laughed. The movie is a touchstone in 80's comedy, and is barely mentioned today, despite having inspired such popular, subversive work as "SUPER TROOPERS," the TV show "Reno 911!," and specifically the film "RENO 911!: MIAMI," an obvious take on "POLICE ACADEMY 5 - ASSIGNMENT: MIAMI BEACH."

The first film in the series grossed nearly $80,000,000 at the box office, as well as another $40,000,000 in video rentals. Of course, a sequel was inevitable. Over the next ten years, 6 more films were released, each one not quite as good as the last.

A contributing factor to the decline was its immediate appeal to children. While the first garnered an R-rating, the second was PG-13, and by part three, the series remained safely in PG territory. By 1988, the series was even turned into a cartoon series for the kiddies. A forgettable live action TV series came and went in 1997. While the child fan base didn't harm the "THREE STOOGES" style slapstick, the sequels lacked the real raunchy punch the first had.

My own first memory of the original film was sitting in a Best Western as a 5 year old, watching the free HBO in the room, saying to my mother, "Hey, Mom...I can see her boobies!" Yes, "POLICE ACADEMY" was my first exposure to female nudity. What a draw!

A few years later, the thought of the female form still dancing in my head, I saw "POLICE ACADEMY 3: BACK IN TRAINING" on the shelf at my local video store. I took it home, and laughed at every joke...even the ones I didn't get. To this day, there exists a home movie of me getting that movie on VHS as a Christmas gift (at the ripe old age of 8), and TOTALLY flipping out over it.
Hugh Wilson directed the first film, and played a huge part in finding the original cast. He has the distinction of hiring a young kid named Steve Guttenberg over some other joker trying out for the lead role of Carey Mahoney, Bruce Willis. (Bruce, you can thank him now). Along with David Graff, Marion Ramsey, the NFL's Bubba Smith, and "mouth effects" comedian Michael Winslow (the only cast member to appear in all 7 films AND the TV show), the cast was rounded out to near perfection. When wimpy SNL alum Tim Kazurinsky and the perfectly coked-out Bobcat Goldthwait were added in part 2 (as characters) and part 3 (as cops), the cast fully rounded out.

Worthy of mention, also, is George Gaynes, as Comdt. Eric Lassard. Best known as the adoptive father , Henry, in the iconic, "Punky Brewster," George is a respected stage actor, and pushing 100 years old now (born 1917), he's still lookin' good. His portrayal of the head of the academy is simultaneously naive and aware of the underdogs he has trained, and he is my personal favorite character.

Lead actor, Steve Guttenberg, left the series after four entries, but let's be honest...when Guttenberg calls it quits, maybe we all should.

Each film followed a formula, and each new film relied on jokes established in prior entries. While this detracts from any real artistic style (seriously, there is none), it adds to the nostalgia upon viewing them 25 years later. I mean, what would a "POLICE ACADEMY" movie be without constant pranks on Captain Harris and Proctor, overblown action climaxes, and a visit to The Blue Oyster Bar?

(note: the music that plays whenever an unsuspecting cop is tricked into entering the obviously gay leather-man club is an old French disco tune, "El Bimbo," by Bimbo Jet)

I used to look up to the police (a feeling that's has significantly diminished as I've gotten older), and I can safely say the reason why was because of these characters. Each one represents a stereotype of a kind of cop that exists, from Bubba Smith's soft-spoken giant Hightower, to David Graff's literally gun kissing Tackleberry. Each of them hits a true note.

Sitting here, in 2010, I look at these films as very dated timepieces, but I still laugh. Recently rumors have started circulating that the 1984 recruits may still have life in them yet. Following in the footsteps of Indiana Jones and John Rambo (for what its worth), the main characters are set to appear in a new entry in the franchise (minus David Graff, R.I.P.) as soon as 2011. The new film's director has yet to be determined, but two names are being knocked around for the honor...the original film's Hugh Wilson, and...STEVE GUTTENBERG!
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