Decades have passed, yet Officer Frank Drebin still lives on, in my mind, rent free. Leslie Nielsen brings such incredibly strange life to the leading man found within The Naked Gun trilogy. His antics and volatile creativity served him well for much of his career, so it should be no surprise that his collaboration with director David Zucker is anything but engaging and good-natured fun. Does it reach the mile high masterpiece that was Airplane!? No, most certainly not, but The Naked Gun serves its purpose as a fine cop comedy piece that riffs on the era of Lethal Weapon and lampoons those that take the gritty action hero so seriously.
Drebin, for better or worse, is a caricature of those many tropes and stifled ideas that soon bled into the action genre. He is a bumbling fool, and while his expertise in the field is duly noted, so too is his bumbling mediocrity as a human being. Somehow persevering through his inability to interact with other people for more than a handful of minutes without some act of random malice or menace, Drebin gets the girl, saves the day, and makes a few friends along the way. Nielsen is a fine comedian, and an even better actor, so it is no surprise that the straight-faced gag comes across with cutting brilliance. Some scenes are better than others, granted, but the product on the whole feels like a great expression of those spoof films that soon diluted themselves into shlock that peddled cheap Hollywood in-jokes and surface-level rip-offs.
No such misery is found here, and even though The Naked Gun is the slow catalyst for this branch of comedy, it presents a fine collection of enjoyable moments. Fourth-wall breaks are common but utilised well, and the sight gags are exceptionally well crafted. It is the shorter moments, the throwaway lines and one or two set pieces that prevail though, the rest are there, but do not offer up much in the way of brilliance. Many of the jokes feel like time wasters, the pressure of a zinging good line bubbling away underneath until it hits breaking point. Direction like that takes self-restraint, and David Zucker does a solid job in handling it. But his laugh-a-minute rapport with Nielsen does not offer up wholly fruitful rewards.
The Naked Gun is a fine experience, one that does not do so well upon a rewatch. Nielsen is the king atop the throne here, this is very much his vehicle of work. Priscilla Presley and O.J. Simpson linger in supporting roles, and the great George Kennedy provides a valuable spiel of plot points for those few in the audience that have any concern with where or why this plot is steamrolling any prospect of interest and barreling toward an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth. The Naked Gun is a film of moments. It has several brilliant pieces throughout, but they are hardly connected to any narrative consequence. For good or ill, that is what makes this series such a unique experience.