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Dare to Be Dumb

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Ricardo Montalban. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). 84 minutes. 1988. Paramount Home Video 32100. PG-13. $29.99.

The Naked Gun 2{1/2}: The Smell of Fear
Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Robert Goulet. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). 85 minutes. 1991. Paramount Home Video 32365. PG-13. $29.99.

Naked Gun 33{1/3}: The Final Insult
Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Fred Ward. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). 82 minutes. 1994. Paramount Home Video 32785. PG-13. $29.99.

The Naked Gun movies were continuations of Jerry Zucker's hilarious TV show Police Squad!—a show that, as Zucker explains in his audio commentary to the first film, was doomed to failure, as it required its viewers to watch carefully or miss its constant stream of jokes. As Zucker points out, television is the medium that you watch while doing something else.

The Naked Gun franchise is built on the premise that no joke is too stupid—especially if they're fired at you at machine-gun pace. And it works—even stuffy film critics can be reduced to putty by the accretion of funny names, situations, sight gags, and puns. Of course, these films are best seen in crowds, as half the fun is listening to the person next to you snorting and cackling with laughter. In that spirit, all three movies benefit from the audio commentary of director-writer Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and host Peter Tilden, who act like a rowdy front row, cracking in-jokes and commenting on the action.

The first and third films are the most engaging and feature the best commentaries—TNG 2{1/2} seems labored in comparison, and suffers from long silences on the commentary track. The first and third also feature the best transfers: The first is basically good-looking, if a tad harsh in its color palette, while TNG 33{1/3} features a crisp, good-looking (if not exemplary) print, and the fullest, most natural sound.

But the charm of these films is in all the things they do wrong: the collection of dreadful actors cast as leads (Nielsen is an amazing physical comedian and is fearless in mugging for a joke—any joke), the stupid plot situations, the truly awful puns. Any one of these would make the films merely bad; taken together, they create a heightened sense of comedic reality in which everything actually is funny.

Dare to be dumb: Surrender to the quirky charms of The Naked Gun.

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