(Yes, yes, I know, I know, this is Part 1, remodeled and reconfigured from my previous blog. Reduce, reuse, recycle, right? Oh and I’ve reedited a bit too. You’re rewelcome!)
In an effort to stand out from the protesting hordes who might be a trifle jaded about Hollywood’s love of sequels, I have decided to embark on a personal quest. This mission begins with a semi-moderate controversial statement: Not All Sequels Suck. No, really!
Oh don’t get me wrong, there are some absolute joyless cashgrabs that have been lensed over the years. We’ve been sequeled, prequeled, rebooted, reimagined, relaunched, and homaged to death. I get it, I do. However, what about those follow-ups whose biggest sin was simply not being the original? I don’t think this is a damnable offense at all. In fact, some interesting and good films have been turned away with an upturned nose in their direction because of “well, they weren’t the first one, were they?” attitudes.
First off, some key ground rules that I set for myself:
1. I will only be looking at the immediate sequels to the originals. So at this point going forward there will be no jumping on Friday the 13th Part 3, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, Halloween 5, Leonard Part 6, The Magnificent Seven, etc. Maybe one day, but not right now. Only Part 2s and Part 2s only.
2. Prequels are also out, unless there’s an immediate Part 2 to the prequel, then game on. And yes, I consider Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be a prequel to Raiders. Because it is. Yes, it is. No, you’re wrong because it is. So I’m not looking at that one. Besides, Crystal Skull did more to bring awareness to the greatness of Temple of Doom than I ever could.
3. I am not going to look at Part 2s that have a more-or-less universal acclaim. We all know that The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back don’t suck, right? It’s a given that Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are great. I waste your time in so many other ways, so I think I can relieve you of this one at present.
4. I am not in any way saying these Part 2s are better than the originals, unless I do say such a thing. I don’t admit they are flawless films however. They have deficiencies like any movie. But these will come on their own demerits, not just because of a general “they aren’t the first movie”-type attitude.
5. Other rules will be haphazardly made up along the way. Be prepared.
So let’s get started!
The Sequel: Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)
Original Movie: Police Academy (1984)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Steve Guttenberg||as Carey Mahoney|
|Bubba Smith||as Moses Hightower|
|Michael Winslow||as Larvell Jones|
|George Gaynes||as Commandant Eric Lassard|
|Marion Ramsey||as Laverne Hooks|
|David Graf||as Eugene Tackleberry|
|Bruce Mahler||as Doug Fackler|
|George R. Robertson||as Chief Hurst|
To Start With:
“You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a court appointed attorney. You have the right to sing the blues. You have the right to cable TV… that’s very important. You have the right to sublet. You have the right to paint the walls… no loud colors.”
All right, all right, all right. I get it. Why this one? Yes, the Police Academy series has been bashed every which way for years now. Yes, critics have enjoyed lambasting them with glee. Yes, there haven’t been any new installments of note for 30 years – yes, I’m ignoring Part 7 – so the series has more or less faded into being one of those 1980s quirks, like leg warmers, watching Silver Spoons, and not voting for Mondale.
Yet, when I was kid, I somehow fell in love with this franchise, even though I might have been a smidge too young when I saw the earlier entries. But I was so incredibly jazzed to see Parts 5 & 6 in the theater! (Yes, my childhood rose-colored glasses were wedged on my face and my parents had the patience of saints, I know.) Was the comedy always great? Nope. Did the series tend to dive into more or less innocuous family fare with each sequel? Oh, unquestionably. Can we believe there was a time where Bubba Smith headlined not just one, but two actual motion pictures? We have to because he did.
However, familiarity breeds comfort or something like that. With so many horror films sucking up the majority of the 1980s franchises, here was a safer comedic series alternative. There was some slapstick, some verbal humor, some basic plots, some colorful characters, and the effortless charm of Steve Guttenberg. It also helped that the box office didn’t lie. These movies put butts in theater seats. Think about this: even Part 5 opened at #1 at the box office! Oh, it was a wacky time indeed, my friends. With 1984’s Police Academy being a box office darling that grossed well over $100 million worldwide, a sequel was sure to follow. Producer Paul Maslansky didn’t hesitate in getting Part 2 out a year later.
Anything Done Better than the Original?
Lt. Mauser: “You’re not playing with a full deck, are you?”
Sgt. Proctor: “Oh, I don’t play cards.”
Off the bat, I would have to say that the introduction of Lance Kinsey as Proctor was a definite improvement. Remember in the first Police Academy, Lt. Harris wasn’t necessarily a bosom pal with Lt. Callahan. (Protruding pun intended!) They were equals as co-instructors, yet even Callahan had a soft spot for these cadets as they came along, compared to the eternal disdain of Harris. Proctor as the dimwitted but eager sidekick to Mauser was a welcome addition. Proctor worked so well that he stayed on to do Parts 3 through 6 of the series, even pairing up with Harris starting in Part 4.
Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed along with his gang are so much more colorful than the random rabble that’s rioting at the climax of Police Academy. Granted, I can understand if Goldthwait isn’t your cup of tea, but for my money he manages to be off-balance, intimidating, and funny at the same time here. That’s without doubt a difficult juggling act. But after pulling it off here, Bobcat was definitely worth the paycheck to be in the next two movies.
Anything as Good as the Original?
Chief Hurst: “Mauser, you’re the most incredible ass-kisser I have ever seen.”
Lt. Mauser: “Thank you very much, sir. I do my best.”
Art Metrano’s Mauser is a great prick and a fantastic target for the recent grads. Yes, Harris was a tough jerk to be sure, but at least in Police Academy he was genuinely interested in getting good graduates out of the training. In Part 2, Mauser is just an opportunistic bastard and Metrano plays him to a T, clearly relishing the part.
Some of the six grads are given wiggle room to develop their characters in ways that carry through to the other films in the series. For instance, Tackleberry manages to fall in love and gets married, so his wife and In-Laws appear in further movies. Jones turns out to be a martial arts master not only in technique but also in providing his own bad dubbing and sound effects. Mahoney is still a loveable wisearse, Fackler is an inadvertent one-man demolition crew, and Hightower throws a football. Far. Like really far.
The settings appear to be real as well. Just like the dormitories and the city streets during the riot in the first movie, Part 2’s world looks real and lived in. So the line between actual locations and sets gets blurred and that’s good. The lighting was a bit darker and lent an air of authenticity. It seems to go against the idea that comedies should be brighter and lighter when compared to drama or action. Police Academy 2 looks like they shared a precinct with Hill Street Blues at times.
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“No, you don’t get a car. You get a nice little chair and a nice little desk and a nice little office for your nice little voice!”
Here begins the moment where the series just doesn’t really seem to know what to do with Hooks. We didn’t notice as much in the first movie because there were more cadets to choose from so our attention was spread out. But now that it is pared down to just the six of them, she kind of gets shafted. “Make sure she speaks softly, give her at least one loud line, rinse, repeat!” And this would continue through the series to a certain extent.
Howard Hesseman is no George Gaynes, nor should he be. But he seems to be completely miscast in this movie. Granted, he does…okay, but in the end I don’t really find myself rooting for him to win over Mauser’s scheming. I know Hesseman regrets doing the movie, which is understandable. I suppose a few rewrites would have been good or maybe a different choice for the role, but something’s not firing with Dr. Johnny Fever’s adventure in law enforcement.
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
“ALL OF YOU GO ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS OR I’M GONNA START CRACKING SKULLS!”
Oh, that “cracking skulls” quote above reminds me: where the hell was Tackleberry for the finale?! Was he too wrapped up in wedding plans and monster truck rental agencies that he couldn’t get on his motorcycle and save Mahoney? Yeah, there’s a cut scene where Tack arrives late at the zoo after all the action has subsided, which is a callback from the first movie, but why was that scene not in the theatrical release? At least subsequent installments had Tackleberry brandishing some kind of heavy weapon for the end, but here it is a missed opportunity.
Having a PG-13 rating signaled the eventual death knell of the series. We didn’t know it then, but we certainly knew it later. This kind of institutional comedy thrives in the world of unabashed R-rated glee. Think of National Lampoon’s Animal House or Stripes. By the way, I’m not talking about a super hardcore, barely-passed-the-censors-type of R rating either. Police Academy wasn’t a hard R by a long shot, but smoothing out and sweetening up the series made it become more wacky than funny. That’s a writing/producing/studio fault that started with the first sequel.
Part 2 tries to at least earn the PG-13, even including a well-placed f-bomb and some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nudity, but again, the movie certainly could have had moments that went further. At least Part 2 had some slightly better material in it, but once the door was opened it never was shut. Starting with Part 3, all the following sequels went even further down by going PG. Yes, it got kids in for a time, but parents weren’t interested as much. After six movies, a cartoon, and action figures (!), Police Academy just ran out of steam and even worse: ended up Guttenberg-less.
“If you don’t stop doing that, you could go blind.”
Indeed! This is Police Academy after all! I’m not going to go through and analyze each of these installments as either I’m saving that for a future article or I’m too lazy right now (you choose!), but here is the Police Academy roll call:
After Part 2, audiences were treated to our favorite cadets in various levels of returns in Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986), Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987), Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988), Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989), and sadly, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994).
Oh, and there was the Police Academy animated series (1988-1989).
And a TV show: Police Academy: The Series (1997-1998).
And yes, there’s a continual threat of a Part 8 coming forth…
“Never fool with a fuzz ball!”
For me, Part 2 is the last gasp in the series of the vibe from the first Police Academy. There’s still some off-color humor, still some cussing, still some rough edges. The musical score is a step up in some areas, especially in moments where the street gang is portrayed. Overall, these are still the same cadets/grads we grew to love from the first movie. Plus, some of the actors new to the series, like Bobcat and Tim Kazurinsky, resonated with audiences because otherwise they wouldn’t have been back in subsequent installments.
And I must state this with all due emphasis: Steve Guttenberg’s presence in this series cannot be underestimated. He brings some nice moments and he’s absolutely not dialing it in here, which he easily could have done. He gets to play an undercover role and meshes really well with Bobcat in their scenes together. The glint in his eye when he’s going to indulge in hijinks is always welcomed and appreciated.
After this entry, there were some bright spots in the series like Part 6 and some dark spots like Part 5. And Part 7. And parts of Part 3. Ahem. At the end of the day, the old characters are developed further, the new characters aren’t mere fluff, the plot is relatively tight, and Their First Assignment hit enough good points to ensure that it wouldn’t be their last.
Lt. Mauser: “Mahoney, what–what kind of clown do you think I am?”
Mahoney: “A juggling clown?”