Dragnet (1987)

Just the facts, ma'am

Classic Dragnet is a bit of a cultural blindspot for me; other than “just the facts” and a straight-laced cop procedural and that one audio cue we all associate with dramatic mysteries (“dunnn-dun-dunn-dun…”), I couldn’t tell you anything. And that’s just fine for the purposes of viewing this Tom Hanks-Dan Aykroyd comedy-mystery vehicle, because you don’t really need to know anything about Dragnet to get the full experience of this buddy cop comedy reboot of the important brand.

I find Dan Aykroyd to be pretty aggressively unfunny most of the time, or at least uncharismatic and stagey. To make matters more stark, he’s paired against Tom Hanks, whose reputation for likeability and charm needs no introduction. Here, Aykroyd is playing a Spock-like buzzkill; the “all business” half of the buddy cop duo. It’s, frankly, a good fit for Aykroyd as he leans into the character. Only when he tries to flex his normal comic chops with a dopey reaction face or goofy slapstick does he become distracting.

More problematic than Aykroyd’s presence is that Hanks, here the devil-may-care young gun, gets basically nothing to do except make quips until the final act. His delivery is always good, but there’s not much for him to work with, so the performance feels phoned in relative to what he’d been doing shortly after 1987.

The script is about 75% cheesy jokes. Your mileage may vary, but I found the hit rate to be pretty low. Hanks gets in some good one-liners at the expense of the uptight Friday played by Aykroyd, but overall it feels undernourished as a comedy. (And I will personally never laugh at a police brutality gag ever again; there’s a couple groaners here.)

The case that the pair solve is dull and bloated, with only one or two really interesting set pieces or twists (I love the cult’s ritual sacrifice party, for example). It would have fit better in a 44-minute episode of a TV show than a 105-minute movie. But against all odds, the satire is actually pretty clever: The merging of the pornography industry and the churches is simultaneously a jab at the decay of culture and the eternal falseness of most moral panics, not to mention the undercurrent of perversion in Christianity’s obsession with virginity and policing the bedroom.

Sadly, it’s just not lively or funny enough as a comedy, and under-plotted as a crime story, to be anything more than a pleasant waste of time.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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