If you like the off-the-wall comedy of "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun," you have no doubt been looking forward to the latest Zucker effort, "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear."
And it's fair to say that compared to most other comedies that come to local theaters, "Naked Gun 2 1/2" offers more gags than any 10 of them combined. But the real yardstick for this film is the first "Naked Gun," and "2 1/2" pales somewhat in comparison.
Now don't get me wrong. "Naked Gun 2 1/2" is loaded with wall-to-wall jokes, including so many overlapping sight gags that it's impossible to take it all in in one sitting. And scattered among them are quite a few belly laughs.
But somehow this sequel never reaches the heights of inspired lunacy that made the original so memorable, and there are no extended set-pieces that work as well as the first film's opening battle with America's enemies or the climactic baseball game.
The story this time, such as it is, has to do with a cartel of U.S. energy executives who plot to keep the American people from being made aware of alternatives to oil, electricity and nuclear power: even resorting to kidnapping and murder.
Naturally, it's Lt. Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) the Inspector Clouseau of the '90s to the rescue.
Drebin is in Washington, D.C., these days, still working for Police Squad, though for some reason he hasn't been promoted to captain, as he was promised at the end of the first film. But he's still a hero, being honored as the film opens for blowing away his 1,000th drug dealer.
Jane (Priscilla Presley) is also in Washington, working for an environmental agency and unwittingly dating the film's villain, played by Robert Goulet. It seems she stood up Drebin at the altar a couple of years ago, something Drebin has never gotten over.
George Kennedy is also back as Ed, Drebin's partner, and O.J. Simpson as the hapless Nordberg, who repeatedly finds himself bashed by doors and dragged by vehicles.
There's nothing wrong with continuing characters and situations in a film series, but too often the jokes here seem like inferior retreads. There are even jokes recycled from the original TV series the "Naked Gun" movies are based on.
Co-writer/director David Zucker does manage to get some big laughs here and there I especially liked the Blue Note Cafe, with photos of disasters on the walls and a clientele made up exclusively of men crying alone at their tables, and the goofy dance that Nielsen and Presley do at a formal dinner. Zucker is much more successful with word play and little sight gags than with big comic action scenes.
There are the expected movie parodies, from "Ghost" to "E.T." to James Bond even an obscure "Twilight Zone" joke that only die-hard fans will get.
But there are some sluggish moments, stale material (the Zsa Zsa Gabor cameo already seems dated) and some truly tasteless gags. Do we have to have jokes about mechanical sex toys in every movie these guys do? And the one-liner about sex and the Boy Scouts definitely goes too far.
It's not "Airplane!" It's not even "The Naked Gun." But "The Naked Gun 21/2" does have its moments. And that's usually enough for box-office success these days.
"The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" is rated PG-13 for considerable vulgarity, with some violence, nudity, sex and profanity.
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