WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: The future of America’s energy policy depends entirely on the opinion of Dr Albert Meinheimer. The coal, oil and nuclear lobbies are not prepared to leave his conclusions to chance and plot to substitute the doctor with an identical fraud; but nobody, least of all evil mastermind Quentin Hapsburg, has factored the investigative genius of Lt Frank Drebin into their plans.
The Naked Gun must have been something of a suck-it-and-see exercise for the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team, having seen Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin fail to ignite the small screen. Since the original went on to do great numbers, a sequel was a given: but would this turn out to be a fulfilling follow-up, à la Hot Shots! Part Deux; or would it prove a tiresome turkey like Airplane II?
Times have moved on since Drebin rescued the British Monarch and his sweetheart Jane (Priscilla Presley) at the end of The Naked Gun; for while Frank may now be invited to – and cause mayhem at – George Bush Snr’s Presidential dinners, he attends without Jane, who jilted him on their wedding day. She’s not far away, however, as she is the PR woman for Dr Meinheimer (Richard Griffiths), a trusted expert on energy matters due to give a report recommending greater use of renewable fuels to the President in a matter of days. When Meinheimer’s research facility is bombed, Drebin is called in to investigate; but he is distracted by Jane and specifically her new beau Quinten Hapsburg (Robert Goulet), a slick oil magnate also representing the interests of coal and nuclear power. As Frank and his colleagues Ed and Nordberg (George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson) get closer to the truth, and discover that Hapsburg has a double for Meinheimer who is prepared to read his own oil-friendly report, he struggles to convince Jane that his investigations into Hapsburg’s affairs are motivated by the desire to uphold the law rather than his jealousy getting the better of him.
There’s definitely a whiff of ‘something old, something new’ about The Smell of Fear. Partly that’s due to the whole plot bearing a passing resemblance to that of The Naked Gun (substituting Goulet for Montalban), and partly because some of the situations feel like variations on a theme (the opening Presidential banquet, for example, has overtones of the first film’s Royal reception – only this time Barbara Bush suffers all the indignities); some of the jokes are even recycled from Police Squad! (Little Italy, the hieroglyphic figures at the murder scene), though given the ecological drive of the film this might be forgiven.
Whilst the action is punctuated with frequent jokes, these are much more hit and miss than those in The Naked Gun, those with a political or ecological bent falling particularly flat (at this length of time); and although the core of the plot is much more solid than anything to be found in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, the film struggles to keep up its sense of momentum after a bright start, using physical slapstick for a lot of the comedy where The Naked Gun mixed up the formula with bite and wit. There is also one piece of obvious film parody in the form of a quite lengthy take-off of Ghost. Since it’s quite good and the film was his brother Jerry’s, David Zucker can be forgiven on this occasion; but it should be noted that nearly every ‘spoof’ film since has increasingly relied on recreating scenes from other, often unrelated, movies without even thinking of adding new jokes.
While it clearly draws heavily on some of the Kentucky Fried Theater Group’s past work, The Smell of Fear is not without a few admirable novelties. The entirety of the depressing Blues bar scene is brilliant, possibly the best single sequence in the whole trilogy (you’ll never guess Jane and Frank’s favourite song), while Richard Griffiths is thoroughly entertaining as both the doctor and his drawling doppelganger – I enjoyed his part in the mariachi band particularly. Other than that it is business as usual, with Nielsen in good form, Kennedy providing good verbal support and Simpson tasked once more with being the fall guy.
The Smell of Fear initially promises to be every bit as entertaining as The Naked Gun, though by degrees the film runs out of steam and when Frank spurns the President’s offer to make him head of the Federal Bureau of Police Squad to spend more time with Jane, you figure that his tale is told with (Mrs Bush apart) nothing left dangling. Little surprise, then, that when The Final Insult came along several years later, the writers failed to provide the characters with motivation, energy, or much in the way of jokes beyond clowning and witless parody.