- Movie Rating -

Dragnet (1987)

| June 26, 1987

This is going to sound silly, but Dan Ackroyd has a comic persona that makes me feel smart.  Nearly every other comedian plays dumb, but he excels at playing characters who seem to reach a little higher.  Whether it be The Blues BrothersGhostbustersTrading Places or Spies Like Us, there’s always a hidden dimension to his know-it-all characters.  I could listen to him talk all day.

His impressions of Richard Nixon and Tom Snyder are inspired and so too is his mimicry of the late Jack Webb in the comedy Dragnet, a property that is so easy to parody that your local church felllowship group could do it.  But few could do it this well.  No, it isn’t a solid parody, but more of what would happen if you dropped the square-jawed, bullet-talking Joe Friday in the middle of modern day Los Angeles.  Ackroyd certainly knows the language as heard in an beautiful opening narration (“Even in the City of Angels. from time to time, some halos slip”).  He has a great deal of affection for this material and it shows.

He looks perfect as the movie opens, offering a textbook and almost poetic view of this Planet Los Angeles before exiting his vehicle, his jaw set, his face locked and loaded, his hairline, his suit and his hat are a perfect bit of geometry.  The only thing in his arsenal that isn’t in line is his new partner who has been working undercover, Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks), a man to whom Friday dresses down at first sight for his slovenly appearance (“I don’t care what undercover rock you crawled out from, there’s a dress code for detectives in Robbery-Homicide. Section 3-605.10, .20, .22, .24, .26, .50, .70, and .80. It specifies: clean shirt, short hair, tie, pressed trousers, sports jacket or suit, and leather shoes, preferably with a high shine on them.”)  It’s beautiful.

This odd couple has chemistry as Hanks isn’t the square-jawed equal, more of the Oscar Madison who manages to make Friday’s rulebook lifestyle into a constantly running joke.  The details make it work, not just the armillary but the department issues and simple means, such as Friday’s compact squad car, a Yugo that he flatly describes as the cutting edge in Serbo-Croatian technology.

But if the movie were only mounted on Ackroyd’s performance, it wouldn’t be as special.  The case they get into could only happen in L.A. – a series of bizarre thefts leading to a hilarious pagan cult in involving a ritualistic dance with the participants in goat leggings and punk hair-dos ready to watch a virgin sacrificed to a giant snake.

The off-kilter world of this new Dragnet is what makes his work, populated by all manner of weirdos including Dabney Coleman has a Hefner-inspired porn publisher with an inspired Capote lisp and who waves off the suggestion that his magazine is smut by reframing as a “politically-oriented, socially-impacted monthly.”  Meanwhile Christopher Plummer, an odd choice, plays the prime suspect, a larcenous televangelist who turns out to be the ringleader of the pagan cult.  

It’s all very silly stuff and none of it would gel without Ackroyd’s performance which is so funny and so smartly written (he wrote the movie with Alan Zweibel) that you kind of goggle at it.  I had fun, and he makes it so.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy