May 11, 2013

Queer Review: The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad! (1988)

The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad!
Director: David Zucker
Writers: Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Pat Proft
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Nancy Marchand, Raye Birk, Jeannette Charles

The Naked Gun is an absurdest parody of film noir and detective stories, featuring the bumbling antics of Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen). Beware of the naked homophobia and racism in this one.

When LAPD Detective Frank Drebins' partner, Detective Nordberg (OJ Simpson), is nearly killed by a gang of thugs, Drebin begins his investigation by interviewing the wealthy Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban). Drebin uncovers clues that lead him to believe that Ludwig is behind a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) while she is visiting Los Angelos. Meanwhile, he starts an impromptu romance with Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley). However, no one will believe Drebin and after a series of mishapes, he finds himself without a job. Can Frank Drebin unmask who is behind the plot to assassinate the Queen of England and save the day?

The Queering
The opening scene for The Naked Gun features a white cop beating up a bunch of ethnic (and stereotypical) terrorists. The next scene has a black cop getting his ass handed to him by a bunch of white thugs in a sequence straight out of a Looney Toons cartoon. Later, there's a sequence where a black man menaces the Queen of England.

...racist subtext? What racist subtext?! I don't see no stinking racist subtext!?! Where is D.W. Griffith when you need him?

And I haven't even gotten to Vincent Ludwig, who happens to collect Ming Vases, expensive artwork, and also likes "German boys". I cannot honestly recall a film that wore it's homophobia and racism so openly. Granted, the The Naked Gun is able to get away with a lot due to this being a comedy, but after so many years of watching and reviewing films, there are certain things that are hard to simply ignore.

Now admittedly, there are bits where Drebin commits egregious acts of gender transgression that are rather funny. For example, there is a shot where Drebin lifts his leg up while he kisses Jane. In the scene where she takes her top off, he takes his shirt off in a manor that is visually very similar. And when he goes to break up with her, he claims that he "faked every orgasm".

But there comes a point where I cannot find too much of a silver lining in any film. Yes, Drebin gets to commit gender transgressions and act gay at times, such as when he feels up two baseball teams trying to find a would be assassin. But I cannot help but feel that this is all okay, not just because this is a comedy, but because Drebin is presented as being completely incompetent and bumbling. That is the whole joke of the film. The inadvertent mayhem that Drebin frequently causes, is the result of the same forces that makes it appear that he is about to sodomize an unconscious baseball umpire. The subtext here is that if Drebin were competent, he would not be making these gender transgressive "mistakes". Nope, only competent men act like men, not women, even in comedies.

Overall, the humor is occasionally able to redeem the film... sometimes. I laughed here and there at bits like when Drebin looks up at Jane on a ladder in front of a bookshelf and he says, "Nice beaver." It turns out it was an actual beaver when Jane hands him one that's been mounted and stuffed. But funny or not, there is no getting around the rather horrible bigotry on display here.

I cannot recommend that anybody play either naked or clothed with this particular weapon.

The Rating
*1/2 out of ****


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