Been a while since I posted anything new, and it’ll be a while longer. If you’ve been here before you might have noticed that I’ve updated the design of the site and I’m now going through it and fixing broken links and whatnot. Just to post something (sort of) fresh, I’m recycling a comment I made on a Police Academy post at The AV Club six years ago. I know, you’re thinking, “A comment?!? Seems like a pretty half assed thing to repurpose!” It’s not; the comment is about 1300 words of objectively deep insight. I was intending to write a thesis further expanding on the those ideas, but never did.
So, why this? Why now? Last month, I became an Executive Producer on the documentary, What An Institution! The Story of Police Academy. I’m the guy who spit out 1300 words off the top of my head on Police Academy, what did you expect me to produce? “A reboot,” you say. Sure, I’d love to, but I doubt that AT&T is going to replace Academy Award winning auteur Jordan Peele with little old me. I’m not really doing any of the heavy lifting on the project, that’s being taken care of by director Gary Smart and the team at Cult Screenings UK with assists from Paul Maslansky and Adam F. Goldberg. Shooting starts this week, so keep your eyes peeled for What An Institution! in 2019. Until then, enjoy this:
The Police Academy movies got progressively worse as the series went on, just like the ’80s. You really can’t watch the 1st one on broadcast TV, because a lot of the cuts are detrimental to individual characters’ motivations. The most glaring example is when Hightower flips the police car with Copeland in it, after Copeland insults Hooks. Because the insult was sanitized on broadcast, a lot people I know who had never seen the uncut movie thought Hightower either overreacted, or had a crush on Hooks. Hightower goes after Copeland because he insulted Hooks with a racial slur. Copeland – and his best buddy, Blankes – had been established as racists right off the bat, not just in their language, but in their treatment of others. Copeland even has a Confederate Flag license plate on his car, which is pretty hardcore for a Canadian.
In order to fully appreciate why the original film and it’s premise of “misfits sticking it to the establishment” was so popular, you have to understand that in 1983, the “establishment” was elitist white males, and to them the “misfits” were everyone else: women, ethnic minorities and lower class whites. The original film reflects that ethos most directly in the scene when Chief Hurst pines for the old days, where “there were Johnsons as far the eye could see,” and conspires with Harris to wash out the “misfits.” Harris then enlists Copeland & Blankes to help in this endeavor, because they’re the recruits who fit in the most with the “establishment.” However, Copeland & Blankes turn out to be the most incompetent of the recruits, which leads to Harris being taken hostage and having to be rescued – by Hightower, who had been kicked out of the academy over the car flipping incident. The point being, had the “establishment” been able to look past their own prejudices, they would have seen that Copeland & Blankes were not worthy of being police officers and the rest of the supposed “misfits” were not only better recruits, but better people as well.
As such, Police Academy initially resonated with the population the same way a film like Erin Brockovitch did: it’s basic premise of the disenfranchised overcoming the bias of those in power to effect a win serves as both wish fulfillment and inspiration. Yeah, that’s right; I just compared Police Academy favorably to Erin Brockovitch, suck it cineastes.
The one disenfranchised group that gets short shrift in the series is homosexuals, though not necessarily in the first two films. One of the biggest laughs in the original Police Academy came from The Blue Oyster scene, which many view as making fun of gays. It’s not. It’s poking fun at the “establishment” and their own fears and insecurities concerning not only homosexuals, but their own sexuality as well. The setup: Captain Harris assigns Copeland & Blankes to catch Mahoney in the act throwing a wild party, so they can boot him from the academy. Mahoney, hip to this possibility, has Copeland & Blankes sent to The Blue Oyster for the party. Copeland & Blankes walk in with their alpha male swagger and are immediately taken aback when they realize: 1)that they’ve walked into a rough trade gay bar and 2)with their tight shirts showing off their muscles and their butch haircuts, they don’t really look all that different from The Blue Oyster’s regulars. With that, Copeland & Blankes’ phony toughness evaporates, and they end up doing the tango, not because anyone really forces them to, but because they’re both too terrified to muster up a “no.” When Captain Harris asks them about the party later and they claim they have nothing to report, Copeland & Blankes are both clearly embarrassed and humiliated at having been emasculated by a room full of people who I am certain they believed to be weak. The humor doesn’t come from disparaging homosexuality at all; the laughs come from seeing Copeland & Blankes get some comeuppance. Granted, there are some segments of the audience that laugh merely at the sight of homosexuals dancing in leather, but I don’t believe that to be a reflection of the attitudes of the filmmakers, as evidenced by my favorite line in Police Academy 2: “It’s 621 Cowan Avenue.”
In Police Academy 2, the city and its businesses have been overrun by Zed and his gang. The one place the gang can’t take over: The Blue Oyster. When some of the gang run into The Blue Oyster while chasing someone, they are immediately greeted with a beating by the regulars. They are the only ones besides the police who are willing to stand up to the gang and defend themselves and their place from intrusion. The Blue Oyster regulars are the only ones to defeat the gang besides the police. Yup, the toughest men in the movie are homosexuals. Back at the station, Hooks is the dispatcher. When she broadcasts the details regarding to brawl at The Blue Oyster, she has everyone standby while she looks up the address. Before she can do so, Proctor blurts out off of the top of his head, “It’s 621 Cowan Avenue.” All the officers in the squad room turn to Proctor with knowing looks, to which Proctor only smiles sheepishly, realizing that he has just inadvertently outed himself. Proctor’s closeted homosexuality is never fully explored, as the later films in the series became increasingly geared towards younger audiences.
Police Academy 3 reprised the thesis of the first film, that of “establishment” versus “misfits” without the overt bigotry, but the surface is there in the depiction of the two academies fighting for government funding: the hero academy has the same diverse group along with additions like housewives, supermodels and foreign born minorities, while the villain academy is comprised of elitist white males. Police Academy 4 is barely a movie, with a good portion of its running time padded by credits(!), though it does have some solid action sequences. I haven’t really checked, but I’m sure that Steve Guttenberg’s stunt double has more screen time as Mahoney than Guttenburg did.
Police Academy 5 was reboot of the series before that was fashionable. New protagonists, a new setting, a different structure (it’s built around an actual plot and story line as opposed to series of comedic set pieces capped by an action finale) and a shift in tone to a more cartoony style designed to appeal to children was enough to keep the franchise going for little while longer, in the form of an actual cartoon series, and another movie. Police Academy 6 continued in the vein of 5, but back in the supposed city. I say “supposed” because the movie is so low budget that even the exteriors look like they were shot in a studio.
Police Academy 6 would have probably been the nail in the coffin for the franchise had it not been for the fall of The Iron Curtain. Five years after the release of Police Academy 6, another attempt was made to reboot the series, ditching the number 7 in the title. Mission to Moscow was most likely made in Russia due to production subsidies that brought down the budget. Despite some interesting additions to the cast (like Christopher Lee, Ron Perlman, and Claire Forlani with a Russian accent), the movie itself was abysmal, and plays like it was made for European sensibilities, which probably led to it going to straight to video in the United States. That and the fact that America had lost interest in Police Academy by 1994.
Damn, this is one long ass comment, huh? Since I wrote it, I bought a box set of the films on Blu-Ray (the first time I actually owned any of the movies) and look at them a lot more fondly than I even did then. Feel free to reply, but please try to keep it civil. After all, I didn’t get personal with you… or did I? — smile