Naked Gun, 33 1/3: The Final Insult

WFTB Score: 7/20

Naked gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994, Peter Segal) WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Detective Frank Drebin is lured out of retirement for one last job: to infiltrate the gang of tough guy Rocco Dillon and disrupt their dastardly plan to explode a bomb at the Oscars. His success comes at the cost of his relationship to his wife Jane, who desperately wants a baby; she leaves to take a road trip with an old friend, but a close shave and a discovery on a handkerchief leads her back to her husband’s side – at exactly the wrong time.

The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team may not exactly be the originators of the modern spoof genre – Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles came along a few years before their Kentucky Fried Movie – but they are certainly responsible for some of my favourite examples of the genre, notably Airplane! and the deliciously silly Top Secret! You could make the case that The Naked Gun was one of their more surprising hits, given the short-lived nature of its forebear, the TV show Police Squad! But a success it was, spawning the sequel The Smell of Fear in 1991 and, three years later, The Final Insult.

Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is enjoying his retirement from Police Squad, though perhaps ‘enjoying’ is not the word: he’s now powerless to halt hold-ups at the supermarket, and has altogether too much time on his hands to make cakes and make sure his and Jane’s house is spick and span. Jane (Priscilla Presley) wants a child but Frank hasn’t been up to the job, and matters are not helped when former colleagues Ed and Nordberg (George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson) tempt him into investigating Tanya Peters (Anna Nicole Smith), the busty moll of inveterate criminal Rocco Dillon (Fred Ward), in an effort to stop Dillon from busting out of jail and carrying out a terrorist plan.

Things get so bad that Jane leaves to hit the road with her feminist friend Louise (Ellen Greene), which at least frees Frank up to ingratiate himself with Dillon in Statesville Prison; but when Jane suffers a close shave with an aggressive trucker, she seeks out Frank, inadvertently making her an ideal hostage figure for Rocco and his suspicious mother (Kathleen Freeman) when he escapes prison and prepares to put his plan into action, namely to ruin the Oscars ceremony by hiding a bomb in one of the closely-guarded winners’ envelopes. Can Frank, with the chaotic help of Nordberg and Ed, prevent a catastrophe at one of the great American events of the year?

A frequent complaint about recent spoofs is that they reference films, TV and other bits of pop culture in a scattergun fashion, often not bothering to create new jokes as they do so; and while The Final Insult is more focused than the horrible Epic Movie, for example, its targets are not as consistently lampooned as in Airplane!, the film content to take random snatches from The Untouchables, The Shawshank Redemption and most barefacedly Thelma and Louise. More importantly, unlike its predecessors The Final Insult relies on these parodies to carry the film. If either of the first Naked Gun efforts had been played absolutely straight, they would have been pretty weak cop dramas but could just about have passed muster; take away the jokes from this film, however, and there is almost nothing left.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the jokes are also very thin, either relying on the ZAZ back catalogue (‘Cigarette?’ ‘Yes, I know’) or using the same gag – a character (usually, but not solely, Drebin) reacting to something whilst the scene carries on – so often that it loses any impact. There are still a number of jokes that raise a smile, but very few are as clever or cheeky of those found in The Naked Gun; additionally, and counter-intuitively, the writers seem to be catering for a less mature audience, finding plenty of time to snigger over the late Miss Smith’s bosoms and writing plenty of laboured slapstick into the Oscars sequence (the 66th Ceremony seemingly reserved for actors of the star quality of Mary Lou Retton and Raquel Welch). At least the acting is still game and Nielsen is spared the indignities that would befall him in the execrable Scary Movie 4, though future criminal O.J. Simpson and his partner George Kennedy are given very little to do, and forensic scientist Ted Olsen (Ed Williams) returns only to find himself completely redundant.

It’s unfortunate that The Final Insult sends the Naked Gun series out with both a bang and a whimper, since the first two films have both aged well and still surprise with new jokes on repeated viewings. The amount of fresh comedy served up in this film is not quite insulting, but is meagre rations for a generation brought up on an abundance of ZAZ silliness.

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