Our Ten’s List: Police Comedies.
With Super Troopers 2 in theaters, we decide to ride along with ten of the best police comedy films.
Broken Lizard had a spectacular return to form this weekend with the long awaited sequel to their police comedy Super Troopers doing brisk business at the box office. A perennially busy genre, the police comedy goes all the way back to the silent era and the one-reel flicks of the Keystone Cops in 1912. We didn’t quite have to go that far back to find our ten favorites, but we did settle on a motley line-up of spoofs, goofs and pranksters in uniform that will test your right to remain silent.
Top Ten Police Comedy Movies.
10. Rush Hour (1998).
Rush Hour kicked off a nearly decade long trend where Hollywood paired Jackie Chan with a comedian partner in an East-meets-West buddy cop movie. As the first of the bunch, Rush Hour gets a spot on the list. While Chris Tucker’s schtick may not hold up twenty years later, he was as hot in the 90’s as Kevin Hart is now. Pairing with Jackie Chan is a natural idea as Chan is an excellent comedian in his own right, and he brings a high level of physicality to his roles. Come to think of it, all of these Kevin Hart plus The Rock movies wouldn’t likely exist without Rush Hour!
9. Turner and Hooch (1989).
Detective Turner (Tom Hanks) is a straitlaced cop who reluctantly inherits a big slobbering dog. The pooch is the only witness to the murder of Turner’s friend, a man who had information on a series of crimes.
Just like the last entry, the “uptight cop plus a dog” genre was big business. While K-9, starring Jim Belushi, scooped Hooch by a couple of months, Turner and Hooch is far and away the funnier film. (We’re not even going to touch the Chuck Norris cop-and-dog flick, Top Dog…) Hanks was in the prime of his early career comedy stretch, and had already shown he could play a goofball cop in Dragnet. He flipped his persona in this film, playing the straight man to the goofy dog, which was a remarkably solid set-up. For enduring a metric ton of dog slobber in the line of duty, he makes our list at number nine.
8. Kindergarten Cop (1990).
A pair of cops, the tough Det. Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the level-headed Det. O’Hara, are trying to bust a crime boss who is stalking his ex wife and their young child. To go undercover, O’Hara is set to teach the kindergarten class of the child, but gets knocked out by the flu. This forces the brawny and short-tempered Kimble to have to fake it as a teacher surrounded by toddlers who are tougher than any criminal he’s ever faced.
For a hot minute Arnie was in the comedy business, making some pretty great films like True Lies and Twins…and some less great films like Junior and Jingle all the Way. Kindergarten Cop deftly used the silliness of putting Hollywood’s biggest tough guy into the child care business, and showed a more vulnerable side to Mr. Universe. Like his best films, Kindergarten Cop is endlessly quotable and re-watchable. It is also a ton of laughs…unlike the unfortunate sequel which replaced The Terminator with He-Man Dolph Lundgren.
7. Super Troopers (2001).
In the film that put comedy group Broken Lizard on the map, five misfit Vermont State Troopers try to break up a drug smuggling ring in order to save their jobs, when they’d much rather be chugging maple syrup, playing pranks on each other, and messing with the local teen pot heads.
Super Troopers is what would happen if the fraternity from Animal House all went into law enforcement. It feels less like these guys are breaking the rules than that they don’t know them to begin with. As the sequel recaptures the glory of the first film faithfully, make it a double feature and ride shotgun with the Vermont State Police.
6. Beverly Hills Cop (1987).
Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a loose cannon detective in Detroit who causes as much trouble as he solves. When a former friend is murdered, he disobeys orders and flies out to California to solve the case. In hot water with both the local police and a gang of drug smugglers, Axel has to use his considerable wit and daring to break up the drug racket and avenge his friend.
Beverly Hills Cop made Eddie Murphy into an action star, took in a huge amount of money, and launched a film franchise. Murphy used his edgy style and nimble wit to create a hero in Axel Foley that defined much of his early movie career. Beverly Hills Cop as a series was smart and raw, being as notable for its action sequences as for the comedic maneuvers of its star. Add in an iconic synthesizer theme song and you have an action cop comedy that is instantly recognizable as a gem even 30 years later.
5. The Pink Panther (1963).
A refined English jewel thief known as The Phantom (David Niven) has set his sights on the fabled Pink Panther diamond, but he’ll have to act quickly: his nephew from America is looking to swipe the rock to pay off his gambling debts, and a bumbling but diligent French police officer named Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is on the trail of both thieves as well.
The Pink Panther spawned an impressive ten films, not including two modern remakes with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau. The strength of the series was quickly realized to be the comedic genius of Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove, Murder by Death) and the iconic character of Inspector Clouseau. The eponymous diamond actually became an afterthought, as the game of wits between Sellers, Niven, and eventually Clouseau’s department chief, Dreyfus (who goes insane because of Clouseau’s continual ineptitude and tries to repeatedly murder the detective.) While the films continued in popularity, the first is still the best as Niven provided the charm needed to highlight the antics of Sellers. Just be aware that several times the studio had to replace Sellers, so check the cast listing if you want to be sure to catch only the best of The Pink Panther outings.
4. Dragnet (1987).
Prim and proper veteran detective Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) meets his match when he is assigned a fast-talking young partner, Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks). The two have to get over their differences quickly because a weird cult is invading the city, distributing drugs and indulging their kinks for human sacrifice. Things go from weird to worse when it looks like the cult has support from some of the most powerful people in town, perhaps even from within the police department itself.
Tom Hanks makes the list for a second time in this goofy riff on the hard-nosed detective serial Dragnet, which premiered on radio all the way back in 1949. The series made the jump to TV in the 50’s and then again in the 60’s, and saw several films based on the grittier tone of the radio play. The 1987 movie riffs on the nature of the original, where Aykroyd plays his approximation of gruff Joe Friday as the straight man to Hank’s more free-wheeling Streebeck. The plot itself is a mash of TV cop drama tropes stretched out of proportion to ridiculousness. It doesn’t match the sheer insanity of other cop spoofs like The Naked Gun, but Aykroyd and Hanks and their mismatched personalities make this comedy a fun ride.
3. Hot Fuzz (2007).
Constable Nick Angel is the best cop on the London force…and everyone hates him for it. Tired of being shown up, his coworkers manage to get him reassigned to Sandford village, a quiet and sunny village where crime is non-existent thanks to a vigilant neighborhood watch association. Angel is paired up with Danny Butterman, the son of the chief inspector and a Hollywood cop films aficionado. Danny longs to bust crime and take names, preferably while “jumping through the air, two guns blazing.” His hopes are dashed by Angel’s by-the-book approach…until the two uncover a sinister plot by the town watch to get rid of undesirables.
Director Edgar Wright re-teams with stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) for a clever celebration and deconstruction of the buddy cop genre. Straight-laced Nick Angel spends the first half of the film knocking down all of Danny’s beliefs about how cops in the big city behave, only to have the crazy situation in Sandford force him to do every stupid action movie cliche in order to solve the case. Pegg and Frost have such a dynamic chemistry that its great fun to see how they reinvent themselves as a comedic partnership each film. The film has the tell-tale idiosyncratic style of a Wright comedy, where the line is blurred between a spoof and an homage for whatever genre is being taken apart. If you liked Shaun of the Dead, you’ll find a lot to love about Hot Fuzz.
2. Police Academy (1984).
A shortage of police officers leads to the Academy relaxing their standards and taking anyone with a pulse. Mahoney (Steve Gutenberg) is a smart aleck whose frequent run-ins with the law force him to enroll, lest he be sent to jail. He figures he can screw up so badly during training that they’ll be forced to kick him out, thereby avoiding actually having to become a cop. Unfortunately, the new policy means that the bar for being disbarred is so high, none of the pranks Mahoney can come up with will work. It looks like he, and a squad of fellow losers and oddballs, might actually make the force, much to the horror of the actual cops in charge of their training.
You can’t talk cop comedies without talking about Police Academy. The film was an instant classic that has become obscured by a decade of horrendous sequels. And yes, the sequels were utter trash, but the original was pretty funny top to bottom. The characters are memorable and diverse, each with their own gimmick: Michael Winslow was a human sound effects machine, Bobcat Goldthwait was a manic mess, David Graf played a Dirty Hairy wannabe gun enthusiast, and football great Bubba Smith played a soft spoken giant who could bend steel with his bare hands. Guttenberg had just the right mix of charm and mischievousness, especially paired against love interest and fellow cadet Kim Cattrall (Sex in the City, Big Trouble in Little China.) The villainous Capt. Harris was one of those smug a-holes from 80’s comedies that you love to hate, making every prank from Mahoney that much more satisfying. All in all, the Police Academy series aged poorly, but don’t hold it against the very funny first outing.
1. The Naked Gun (1988).
Detective Frank Drebin of Police Squad (Leslie Nielsen) is tasked with foiling an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II while she is on a state visit to the US. The bumbling Drebin suspects a wealthy businessman of hatching the plot, but all of the would-be assassins have no connection to the man…or to each other. He enlists the help of the tycoon’s secretary, Jane (Priscilla Presley) in order to thwart the crime, which will happen during the seventh inning stretch of a nationally televised baseball game.
Based upon the hilarious series Police Squad (also starring Nielsen) and spawning two sequels and a rumored reboot to feature Ed Helms, The Naked Gun is one of the most recognizable police comedy franchises. Created by spoof experts the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams (Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane) this non-stop gag reel is perhaps their finest outing. They get the genre dead to rights, Nielsen is iconic as the stoic but clueless Drebin, and the jokes blend gross-out humor, pratfalls, double entendres and word play to fire on all cylinders. Despite a decline in critical success, the films were dynamite at the box office and made Nielsen the king of spoof comedies for more than a decade. Check out the hilarious first entry in the series, and if you want more from these knuckleheads I also recommend the short-lived but excellent TV comedy series, Police Squad.