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Nielsen's humor is brainless in the grand old tradition

NAKED GUN 331/3:


Directed by Peter Segal.

Written by Pat Proft, David Zucker, and Robert LoCash.

Starring Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, and Fred Ward.

Loews Cheri.

By Scott Deskin
Associate Arts Editor

You can say this for the Naked Gun trilogy: it's not pretentious, and it doesn't strive to be good art. But that doesn't prevent its newest installment, Naked Gun 331/3, from poking fun at pictures that typify art and pretentiousness. Case in point: the first sequence of the film opens in a train station with a long cascade of marble steps. An obvious parody of Brian DePalma's Untouchables, which itself was a nod to Sergei Eisenstein's "Odessa Steps" sequence in Battleship Potemkin, it sets the standard for gags, jokes and pratfalls which crop up in the rest of the film. The hapless Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) and his fellow officers single-handedly try to save not one, but three babies in carriages while battling irate mobsters, terrorists, and postal workers.

One would expect a film of this caliber to go downhill quickly after such a sustained comic opening, but it does surprisingly well for itself. The plot (or semblance of plot) finds Drebin finally married to his romantic interest of the previous two films, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley). Presley's no great actress, but she takes advantage of her semi-clueless character to create some light banter with Nielsen and play off some of the situations as well. For instance, her innocent longing to have a baby, balanced with her no-nonsense career as an attorney, is typified by a scene in a courtroom where she is surrounded by people comforting their crying, puking infants. In another scene, she leaves Frank after she suspects some infidelity and takes off cross-country with a friend, Thelma and Louise-style.

As with the former Naked Gun films, most of the gags are justified by confrontations with the villain, this time an imprisoned terrorist explosives expert, Rocco (Fred Ward). When Police Squad learns that something is afoot, they lure Drebin out of retirement and a househusband's domestic bliss to investigate. His first lead takes him to a "health clinic," later revealed as a sperm bank, to obtain some information from one of the criminal cohorts named Tanya (supermodel and 1993 Playboy Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith). He later goes undercover into prison with Rocco to learn more of his plans and to act as one of Rocco's accomplices in the breakout and the bombing. All of the rapid-fire, hit-and-miss amusements apply, but these scenes in prison are probably the ones that glean most of the magic from the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker mystique.

After the breakout, things go a little bit downhill. The culmination of Rocco's efforts, the bombing of the 66th Academy Awards, is executed with too much finesse and glitz and comes up short with the sight gags, eventually resorting to Drebin crashing the festivities with physical disaster and a heavy reliance on bathroom humor. Probably most disappointing is that Fred Ward, a normally superb actor, is wasted in his flat role as Rocco. The other disappointments were George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson as Drebin's inept partners at Police Squad: Simpson, whose sadistically funny brushes with accidental death in the first two films provided additional amusement, walks around cluelessly and humorlessly (aside from the first sequence). Both actors were simply given too little to work with in this sequel and probably just came back for the money.

However, if you like your comedies unsophisticated, and if you are a fan of the series, Naked Gun 331/3 won't disappoint. The sheer number of sight gags and cameo appearances (including "Weird Al" Yankovic, in his third "Naked Gun" role), along with the appeal of Nielsen, makes for an equally good (and mindless) effort. Just don't forget to check your brain at the door.