Whatever your opinion is of law enforcement, they’re generally a necessity to maintain order in society. That’s not to say police officers aren’t human as well (Robocop (1987) excluded, of course). They make mistakes sometimes, and sometimes they act in their own self-interests. Despite controversy and other shortcomings, there are plenty of police officers who are full of integrity and do their job to the best of their ability. Over the years, there have been many stereotypes formed around cops. From the donut-eating, overweight incompetent to the hard-nosed, by-the-book officer who is continuously stymied by corruption in his department, a lot of police representation in movies can be boiled down to tropes. Consequently, the “police movie” is practically its own genre. This week’s two films highlight some different representations of police.
The Naked Gun
Length: 85 minutes / 1.42 hours
There are plenty of movies that portray the police as some kind of joke. Granted, these films also have the police in the role of an antagonist, thus making them incompetent to allow the protagonist to succeed, often to comedic effect. However, there are still many films that have police as the protagonists and remain in the “comedy” genre. Sometimes, the situations the police find themselves in are the comedic factor but other times the police themselves are the source of the comedy. The former is best represented by films like Kindergarten Cop (1990), whereas the latter are generally represented by movies like Super Troopers (2001) and Hot Fuzz (2007). The Naked Gun franchise combines both of these types of comedy in a wry and often goofy screwball comedy that features the comedic talents of Leslie Nielsen.
With Queen Elizabeth II’s (Jeannette Charles) visit to Los Angeles coming up soon, it’s up to Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) to clean up a city with a heroin problem before she arrives. All the information Detective Nordberg (O. J. Simpson) has accumulated on the heroin ring point to Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán). To distract Drebin, Ludwig sends his assistant, Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley), to help Drebin with the investigation. After some sleuthing, Drebin and Jane discover that Ludwig will attempt an assassination of the Queen at a baseball game using hypnotic suggestion to awaken a sleeper assassin. As time runs out to stop the killing, Drebin’s dumb luck and clumsy bumbling end up saving the day. At this point, Jane is turned into a sleeper agent and attempts to kill Drebin. His only defense against her is to call upon the strength of their relationship.
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours
Police work is serious business, as well it should be. The everyday stories of police can even be used in a documentary format, as was done with The Thin Blue Line (1988). Even fictionalized accounts do have some elements of truth to them, as the dramatic nature of a police officer’s job lends itself to gripping storytelling. Movies like Training Day (2001) show audiences just what needs to be done to affect change as a police officer. Even animated films like Zootopia (2016) highlight the struggles of police who are trying to do the right thing, despite the bureaucracy and other factors that end up being stacked against them. In the end, most police films are about investigations. As the crime is unraveled, the police find themselves deep in the dregs of society as they try to bring justice to their jurisdiction.
Soon after the mysterious shooting death of acquitted Mobster Carmine Ricca (Richard Devon), Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) runs across a few rookie police officers who have skills with their guns that surpasses his own. As more undesirable members of society are knocked off, Harry starts to suspect a gang of motorcycle cops has created a “kill squad” to take out the mobsters and pimps who haven’t received the justice they deserve. Through a shooting competition, Harry manages to retrieve a fired bullet from a rookie officer’s gun. When ballistics analyzes the round, it matches the mob shootings. Cornering Harry with threats and a mailbox bomb, these police officers give him an ultimatum to join their group. With his outright refusal, the officers turn their wrath on Harry, who manages to outsmart them and give them their own justice as well.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 police portrayals