Although not quite as good as its pseudo-predecessor Airplane, The Naked Gun is still absurdist comedy at its best with multiple forms of humour and another priceless performance by Leslie Nielsen.
The Naked Gun is written and directed by David Zucker and stares comedy legend Nielsen as incompetent detective Frank Drebin as he attempts to foil a secret plot to assassinate the Queen. During which, he does all the predictable stuff like fall in love (with Priscilla Presley no less), constantly embarrasses his chief (George Kenedy) and basically makes a massive fool of himself. If this plot sounds pretty standard, thats because it is. There’s nothing here particularly original story-wise, and it follows a lot of similar tropes along the lines of Get Smart and The Pink Panther. But the one thing Naked Gun has contrary to those series is absurdist comedy. Very prevalent in the 80s following the success of Airplane! and Monty Python, absurdist humour is based around constantly breaking the realm of reason and logic. Because of this, its hard to take the plot of Naked Gun seriously. The clichés are supposed to be bland and typical, because it creates a heightened sense of reality which makes all the gags and surreal humour work. Because of that, I’m hesitant to discount its plot as a negative because it almost makes the movie funnier.
While we’re on the subject of types of humour, The Naked Gun is far from a one-trick comedy. It has sight gags, slapstick, innuendo, low brow, puns, and basically everything bar the kitchen sink. This is somewhat unsurprising as Zucker also directed and wrote Airplane!, which not only popularised the absurdist comedy that Naked Gun capitalises on, but also basically slapped almost every form of humour together to see what sticks. Airplane! is considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, and while I won’t put Naked Gun quite that high up (as not every joke works as well as it does in Airplane!), it certainly owes a lot to that film. The types of humour, Leslie Nielsen, the tone, the two films are very similar.
Speaking of Leslie Nielsen, he is perfect as Frank Drebin. His deadpan delivery and blank responses to basically everything elevates almost every gag to another level of hilarity. No one can make a pun quite like Nielsen. The rest of the cast is solid as well. The villain, played by Ricardo Montalban, isn’t particularly funny but his seriousness plays well against the absurdity of the film. George Kennedy as Drebins superior is perfectly fine too, although some of his punchlines do fall flat. I am a little conflicted on The love interest played by Priscilla Presley however. She basically plays a caricature of the lovestruck romantic foil which isn’t particularly interesting, but some of her exchanges and subtle innuendos with Nielsen are genius and hilarious. Overall the cast is good, but Leslie Nielsen is the real star.
So while the plot may be (intentionally?) bad, and not every joke lands as well as it does in Airplane!, The Naked Gun is still an excellent example of multiple forms of comedy crammed together and done right. It may not be one of the best comedies ever, but absolutely well worth the watch for many good long laughs.
General Audience: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended