Directed by Tom Mankiewicz.
Starring Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, Christopher Plummer, Alexandra Paul, Jack O’Halloran, Harry Morgan, Elizabeth Ashley and Debney Coleman.
Police Sergeant Joe Friday and his new partner Pep Streebeck investigate a pagan cult causing havoc in Los Angeles.
It was the 1980s and buddy cop movies were coming at you left, right and centre. But for every Lethal Weapon, Red Heat or Tango & Cash that meshed together witty banter and extreme violence you also got a whole bunch that were lighter in tone and went straight for the belly laughs. Some were great, some were awful, and 1987’s Dragnet falls somewhere in the middle (but closer to the great end of the spectrum).
Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters/The Blues Brothers) plays Sergeant Joe Friday, a straight-laced, no-nonsense cop (and nephew of the Joe Friday from the original Dragnet TV series) who takes pride in his role in the LAPD and sticks rigidly to procedures, much to the annoyance of his colleagues. When his current partner quits the job Friday is placed with Detective Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump/Turner & Hooch), a laid-back and streetwise young cop who clocks on to Friday’s work ethic after getting a dressing down within seconds of meeting him. The pair of them are sent to investigate a series of robberies where the perpetrators leave a calling card marked with ‘P.A.G.A.N.’ (People Against Goodness And Normalcy), a paper trail that leads them to an infamous porn baron (played with obvious relish by Debney Coleman), a crooked TV evangelist (a very arch Christopher Plummer), a pagan ritual involving a giant snake and ‘the virgin’ Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul), as she is known throughout the film in a joke that pays off in a few different ways.
Along the way we get to meet such characters as the put-upon Captain Gannon (Harry Morgan, reprising his role from the original TV show), a hulking henchman named Emil Muzz (Jack O’Halloran – Superman II) and an array of strippers and models that Streebeck seems to know personally, but this caper belongs to Aykroyd – a life-long fan of the original Dragnet and of its star Jack Webb in particular – who manages to capture exactly the right delivery and voice inflections that capture the righteous spirit of the original but also wrangles out the absurdity that makes these affectionate comedies work, managing to make one word and a look aimed at an exotic dancer one of the most hilarious moments of the film. But it isn’t just the Dan Aykroyd show as Tom Hanks provides the wisecracks at the expense of Aykroyd’s uptight performance and the easy rapport between the two actors is the charm that lies at the heart of Dragnet and makes it such an enjoyable film to watch.
However, despite the impeccable performances from the two leads and most of the supporting cast – not all, because Alexandra Paul really manages to suck the fun out of any scene she is in – Dragnet suffers by becoming formulaic by the time of the final act, as if the three writers involved (Dan Aykroyd being one of them) really couldn’t think of a way to wrap things up other than doing the obvious. Granted, mainstream success thrives on convention and familiar narrative beats, and there are a lot of comedies from the 1980s that followed a similar pattern, but considering the detail that the first part of the film takes care to nurture the predictable and almost lazy way it ends is a bit of a disappointment.
Don’t let that put you off, though, as for the most part Dragnet is good fun and a film that is often overlooked in favour of relatively edgier ‘80s cop comedies such as Police Academy or Beverley Hills Cop for laughs but hopefully this rather glossy-looking Blu-ray release will rectify that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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