Release Date: March 23, 1984
Director: Hugh Wilson
Writers: Neal Israel, Pat Proft (Story & Screenplay) & Hugh Wilson (Screenplay)
Starring: Steve Guttenberg, G.W. Bailey, Kim Cattral, George Gaynes, Bubba Smith, Donovan Scott, David Graf, Andrew Rubin, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
The eighties brought us a diverse range of Comedy films. The subjects ranged from Teen Comedies, Raunchy Comedies, Supernatural Comedies and the Parody/Spoof Comedies. Some of the films that came out during this period were so successful that not just sequels were made, but an entire franchise. One of the Comedy series that would be born in this era was the “Police Academy” movies.
The idea to make a film about a bunch of outsiders joining the police force in the pursuit of being an officer of the law came from producer Paul Maslansky. Maslansky was producing “The Right Stuff” at the time. There was a group of police cades that arrived to help with crowd control during the filming of a street scene. When the cadets arrived to take their post, they were of many diversities and physicality. They were terrible at the job Maslansky found it humorous. He approached the Sergeant and asked him, “Are these all going to be future San Francisco’s finest?” The Sergeant explained that a new policy came out where the academy had to accept new applicants regardless of race, gender, education, physical stature, etc. The Sergeant went into further detail that the cadets could flunk the course and not become police officers. That was the moment a light bulb appeared and Maslansky wrote a two page treatment that night. He gave it to Executive Producer Alan Ladd Jr., who loved the idea and agreed to develop the movie. They hired Neal Israel, Pat Proft and the eventual director of the movie, Hugh Wilson to write the screenplay and before you know it “Police Academy” was born.
Exactly as it was versioned, “Police Academy” is a comedic look at everyday people joining the force and hoping to have a fulfilling career. There are a handful of characters that are shown in the film. First you have the super aggressive ex military man, Tackleberry (David Graf), you have the privileged Thompson (Kim Cattral), the quiet but towering Hightower (Bubba Smith), the bumbling Barbara (Donovan Scott), The shy and reserved Hooks (Marion Ramsey), the ladies man Martin (Andrew Rubin), the human beat box Jones (Michael Winslow) and the smart ass Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg). All are joining the force either through volunteer or ultimatums. Against the new policy of the Mayor, the police Chief instructs Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey) to push the cadets beyond their limits so they will quit. The cadets go through a rigorous fourteen week period of physical training, self defense, firearm training and understanding the law.
The film focuses primarily on Mahoney. After another arrest regarding an incident at his current job, Captain Reed, a former partner of Mahoney’s father, tired of Mahoney’s antics puts his foot down and gives him an ultimatum. Enroll in the Police Academy and complete it or you will be sent to jail. There is a loophole that Mahoney intends to exploit, which is to be kicked out of the academy and not go to jail. As soon as he arrives, he starts to flirt with Thompson and becomes the ire of Harris. After numerous pranks and episodes of insubordination, Mahoney gets his wish to be kicked out. While Harris is on the phone with Captain Reed, Mahoney looks out the window and sees Thompson flirting with him. He starts to reconsider his request to be kicked out and decides to stay through the course and complete it. During his time, he strikes up a friendship with Martin and helps Hightower succeed in completing the driving course which if he doesn’t pass, he will flunk. Hightower eventually gets kicked out after flipping a car over with a cadet inside after he insulted Hooks with a racial epitaph after she accidentally drove over his feet. Bummed about his friend, Mahoney gets picked on by Blanks (Brant von Hoffman) and Copeland (Scott Thomson), two cadets Harris made Squad Leaders to wither out the bad apples in the group and when one threatens to punch him, he is attacked by Barbara in which a fight ensues. Blanks and Mahoney are in Harris’ office explaining what happened. Mahoney stands up for Barbara and claims he threw the first punch which gets him expelled from the academy. Before he could leave, a riot breaks out downtown which causes the cadets to be mobilized as backup for the rest of the force. Mahoney puts on riot gear and joins the group unbeknownst to Harris. As the riots get worse and the cadets scramble, one of the rioters manages to claim the guns of Blanks and Copeland. He takes Harris hostage on a rooftop and wildly shoots at Thompson. Mahoney races to the top to save Harris, but ends up surrendering his gun as the rioter points his gun at Harris’ head. As Harris and Mahoney are sitting on the roof top, Hightower appears and asks the shooter if he could watch him “kill these pigs!” The shooter agrees and as he is about to squeeze the trigger, Hightower punches him in the face and sends his rolling down a flight of stairs. Hightower saves Mahoney and Harris’ lives. In return for their heroism, Mahoney and Hightower are reinstated to the force with honors.
“Police Academy” was an instant success grossing $8 million on its opening weekend and finished the year grossing $81 million. Reviews were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it zero stars. It was successful that they made a sequel that came out the very next year. The sequel was also a success which triggered another movie and then another movie. The series ended with seven movies, a short lived TV show and a possible reboot which Steve Guttenberg is spearheading.
To say that “Police Academy” is a cult movie is an understatement. It’s one of the funniest comedies in my opinion. Not only that, but it provides moments of morality, decency and dedication. The characters that are supposed to be likeable in the film are likeable and the characters that are supposed to be the bad guys are the bad guys. That’s credit to the writing. The movie has plenty of physical gags, situations and witty dialogue to keep you laughing to keep you going through the film’s 96 minute run time. It’s completely relatable to the real world. You’ll have average Joes that end up joining the force for reasons that are of their understanding.
As I mentioned all the characters are likeable and the credit goes to the cast. Most of the cast were relatively unknown (not sure if Guttenberg was known during this time) and they played their roles with heart and passion. They had great chemistry on screen. Guttenberg being the top billing and the focal point of the story delivers a funny performance as Mahoney. He is witty, a bit of a smart ass and someone who likes to have fun at the expense of others. As you tag along to Mahoney’s journey you see the character evolve as he goes from wanting desperately to be kicked out of the academy to taking the opportunity of doing something meaningful with his life. It shows through his good deeds towards other cadets to his heroism at the climax of the film. He is equally matched by G.W. Bailey’s Harris, the next great performance. Bailey plays Harris in a manner similar to R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket” but with very little vulgarity. He immediately draws a disliking to Mahoney tries to push him past his physical limitations. George Gaynes portrays Commandant Lassard as a buffoon in a manner to Leslie Nielsen. His best scene involves a situation he gets in when making a presentation and his reaction afterwards. It will be implanted in your memory for a long time. David Graf’s portrayal as Tackleberry is another highlight of the film. Tackleberry is aggressive and sometimes unstable as you will see during his training especially around firearms. It’s funny to see him sleep with a revolver in his hand and spends his free time sharpening his hunting knife. Michael Winslow plays Jones who rarely talks, but rather speaks through sound effects. He plays pranks on some of the instructors such as making the sound of leaves crunching when an instructor is walking to acting like he is talking on the PA and telling Harris to report to the Firing Range. He has some memorable scenes including playing a video game shooter when there is no TV or console and shaving with a plastic blade and making effects to sound like it’s an electric razor. Finally, my other favorite performance is Hightower, played by NFL great, Bubba Smith. He is a man who is quiet, but provides brute physical strength such as knocking down a brick wall during a course where cadets have to jump over it to pulling on a rope only to have the ceiling come crashing down. He forms a bond with Mahoney when Mahoney helps him learn how to drive since he hadn’t driven a car since he was twelve years old. When Hightower gets kicked out for coming to Hooks’ defense, you could see the devastation in his eyes and you feel bad for him because you know he did the right thing.
If you’ve never seen “Police Academy” before I highly recommend you watch it and see what you think. A lot of people will say that this is nothing original or not as funny as perhaps some other cop comedies that have come out, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you like this film, I would recommend watching the next two sequels, maybe three. I would skip the last two sequels as they seem to have run out of ideas. You’ll laugh, you may shed a tear, or you’ll shed a tear while laughing.
- Director Hugh Wilson stated that when it came time to film the driving scene with Hightower at 4:30 a.m., the actor originally cast as the angry driver was found passed out drunk in the trailer, so Hugh himself ended up playing the role of the angry driver, into whom Hightower crashes.
- When attending his audition, Steve Guttenberg wore an old police shirt belonging to his father Stanley Guttenberg, who was a New York City police officer.
- The location used as the Academy campus was known as the Mimico Lunatic Asylum or variations thereof until 1911, and Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital from 1964 to 1979. It was acquired by Humber College in 1991, after being mainly used as a site for filmmaking between 1979 and 1991. It is now a renovated and active educational institution.
- Michael Winslow (Jones), David Graf (Tackleberry), and George Gaynes (Commandant Lassard) are the only actors who appeared in all seven Police Academy movies. Winslow even goes a step beyond this, as he is the only actor who not only appeared in all seven Police Academy movies, but also had a regular role on Police Academy: The Series (1997).
- Marion Ramsey was asked to wear a fat suit for her role as Hooks, with the idea that Hooks’ boot camp training would have rendered her slim by the end of the film. Due to time constraints, the scene showing Hooks after her weight loss was removed from the final cut. By the time work on the sequel began, producers changed their minds, opting instead to have Marion remain wearing the fat suit, in order to garner audience sympathy for her character. A brief shot of “slim” Hooks remains in the film, however, as a close-up of Marion without the fat suit is seen during the graduates’ march at the end of the film.
- Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, Judge Reinhold, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, and Bruce Willis were considered for Mahoney.
- The only Police Academy movie that was given an R-rating.
- This movie was the most successful film of 1984 in West Germany.
- Steve Guttenberg mentions in his biography, “The Guttenberg Bible”, that Donovan Scott filmed home-movies during filming. According to Guttenberg, there is a “very funny, touching, and unreleased documentary that he made of the shoot.”
- Robert Conrad was offered the role of Commandant Eric Lassard, but turned down the part, which he regretted later on, to the point that he took the part of the Police Chief in Moving Violations (1985) which was co-written and directed by Neal Israel, who also co-wrote this film.
- In the party scene, Tackleberry is seen to play the saxophone. In real-life, David Graf actually was an accomplished saxophone player.
- After early test audiences responded the most positively to Hightower, out of all the characters, Bubba Smith was moved to second place billing, just behind Steve Guttenberg.
- Was filmed in forty days.
- David Graf had to choose between working on this film or Richard Benjamin’s more critically acclaimed Racing with the Moon (1984). When David initially read the Police Academy script, he thought, “What trash”. For three days, he sat and looked at the two scripts. Then, when Warner Brothers made him the offer, Graf said he knew which film was going to make money.
- The Blue Oyster bar used in this movie, is actually called the Silver Dollar Room, located on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Coincidentally, Spadina Avenue is also home to Protocol Entertainment, the company that produced Police Academy: The Series (1997).