Movies based on old TV shows may not seem so original nowadays, but back in the '80s, the idea was more of a novelty. Inspired by the success of his SNL spin-off The Blues Brothers and his appearance in Twilight Zone: The Movie, comedian Dan Aykroyd turned his attention to '50s cop show Dragnet, which he revived in '80s buddy cop style, now re-released on DVD by Fabulous Films.
And when we say '80s style, we mean very '80s – ‘Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks rapping the theme song over the closing credits’-level '80s. Aykroyd plays the nephew of the series’ hero Joe Friday, who also happens to be called Joe Friday. Like his uncle, Friday is meticulous and formal, except Aykroyd plays this up for laughs; he’s able to rapid-fire any section of the California Penal Code in an instant, and tells his muggers off for assaulting him “on a school night”. He’s paired with Hanks’ laid-back Pep Streebeck (again, how '80s is that name?), the perfect foil for the rule-obsessed detective.
Friday and Streebeck investigate a series of robberies committed by a secretive society named P.A.G.A.N., leading them to the mansion of a porn mogul, a zoo with missing animals, and a ludicrous satanic ritual. As plots go, it’s hardly coherent – if you come out of Dragnet fully understanding what all the pagan stuff was about, or why the villain seemed to change his motivations every five minutes, or why the film needed its final elongated chase sequence, you’ve done a better job than we have.
But that hardly matters. The appeal is not the plot but the comic tomfoolery of Aykroyd and Hanks, perfectly cast against each other, and the mocking of '50s cop show conventions, which, though sometimes playing it safe, provides many genuinely funny moments, not least the take on Dragnet’s opening narration.
Christopher Plummer hams it up entertainingly as the film’s villain, and those who remember the series will recognise Harry Morgan reprising his role as Bill Gannon, now the department Captain. Alexandra Paul’s role as Friday’s love interest, however, is disappointing, as she exists purely to be a damsel in distress and to provide a couple of cheap virgin gags.
Dragnet isn’t the funniest police send-up of its era (that would be The Naked Gun), nor is it the best showcase of Dan Aykroyd’s talents (Ghostbusters or Blues Brothers, take your pick), but it is an enjoyable send-up of its source material, held aloft by the comic charisma of its two leads and its almost consistently witty script. A case worth re-opening in 2016.
Special Features: Sadly, there are no new extras here, just the rather basic materials from a previous release – production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, theatrical trailer.
DRAGNET / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: TOM MANKIEWICZ / SCREENPLAY: DAN AYKROYD, ALAN ZWEIBEL, TOM MANKIEWICZ / STARRING: DAN AYKROYD, TOM HANKS, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 15TH