Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part I – The Mahoney Years (1984-1987)

As a kid, no comedies brought me as much replayable joy as the Police Academy films. Yes, they are cheesy and the humor is crude and low brow with slapstick thrown in but to a kid in the 1980s, that is what I liked. And it may have been the first film where I saw boobs.

Still to this day, I enjoy it. And even though this comedy method is generally used poorly in most modern films, it worked in these movies and for the time they were current.

This series spawned a new movie every spring from 1984 through 1989 and then gave us an unwatchable seventh film in 1994. Up until the end though, this was a great series. I’m not sure how new audiences would take to them today but from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise was adored by fans even if it was generally panned by critics.

Police Academy (1984):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1984
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Hugh Wilson
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Donovan Scott, Michael Winslow, Andrew Rubin, David Graf, Bruce Mahler, Marion Ramsey, Brant von Hoffman, Scott Thompson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

The first film in the series introduces us to many of the characters we will see over the course of several films. Most importantly, this movie gave the world the comedic talents of Steve Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s Sgt. Carey Mahoney would be the central character of these films over the first four installments.

We also got to meet Michael Winslow’s Larvell Jones, Bubba Smith’s Moses Hightower, David Graf’s Eugene Tackleberry, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Callahan, Marion Ramsey’s Sgt. Hooks, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris and George Gaynes’ iconic Commandant Eric Lassard. Other major characters would come in other films but these characters lasted over most of the series and each one of them are memorable and lovable in their own way. The Police Academy series is an example of large ensemble comedies done right.

This film in the series had the most overall narrative and is considered by most to be the best film. Later films in the series were full of long-running jokes chaining back to this film, as well as being structured by a series of gags and funny bits that were only lightly threaded together by an actual plot. This one was an adult comedy, full of a large cast of kooky characters – in many ways it was similar in style to Slap Shot, Caddyshack and in some regards, MASH. The great use of this formula in Police Academy also inspired a slew of knock-off films throughout the mid 80s.

The plot is about a bunch of screw ups who join the Police Academy after the mayor declares that anyone can join the academy and be given a fair shot. It concludes with a sequence that sees these screw ups go into the field with minimal training and finding themselves in the middle of a downtown riot.

As stupid and absurd as this film can be, it does create a solid sense of camaraderie among the characters. You care about them, their relationships with one another and the crazy situations they find themselves in. This is why this movie became a hit and why this series lasted for seven pictures. You wanted to see more of these people and their antics.

Police Academy was a huge hit at the time and deservedly so. Each subsequent film dropped of a bit in success but they all still did pretty well through the 80s.

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985):

Release Date: March 29th, 1985
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Bruce Mahler, Colleen Camp, Art Metrano, Marion Ramsey, Howard Hesseman, George Gaynes, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rich Hall

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

The first sequel quickly followed the original film.

In this one, we see our beloved officers take their first job at a precinct ran by Howard Hesseman’s Pete Lassard, younger brother to Commandant Lassard. Also, Lt. Harris is replaced as the main antagonist by Art Metrano’s Lt. Mauser. This creates a lot of debate between Police Academy fans as to who was the better series antagonist: Harris or Mauser. I will say that they are both awesome.

We are also introduced to Lance Kinsey’s Lt. Proctor, who went on to become one of the funniest and most iconic idiots in cinema history. This is also the first of three films featuring Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed and Tim Kazurinsky as Sweetchuck. Zed is the big villain of the film and he is fantastic. He is also Goldthwait’s most recognizable character and plays much better as a goofy bad guy in this film than as a cop in the later ones.

This movie is still a great continuation of the Police Academy series and expands on the characters enough to where you enjoy seeing them growing up and taking on new roles.

Also, the big finale at the abandoned zoo was really cool. It was an awesome location for the gang’s hideout.

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986):

Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Art Metrano, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, Bruce Mahler, Lance Kinsey, Scott Thompson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

The third film rehashes the formula of the first Police Academy but doesn’t do it as well.

Here we have a new class of cadets joining the academy but now the cadets from the original film are there to train them. It is a passing of the torch to a new generation but the new generation didn’t give us many new characters to sink our teeth into. Zed and Sweetchuck return and become cops in this one but they are the brightest spot by far of the new cast of recruits.

The film is still funny, it employs a lot of the same gags and it ends with a pretty decent water action sequence for a film that is a low budget 80s comedy.

The main plot focuses on two academies going head-to-head in a competition, as the worst of the two is going to be shutdown due to budget cuts. The evil academy is ran by Mauser from the previous film. Mauser and Proctor, when together, are comedy gold.

Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987):

Release Date: April 3rd, 1987
Directed by: Jim Drake
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Sharon Stone, Colleen Camp, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Brian Tochi, Scott Thompson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

In an effort to not completely redo the plots of the first and third movie, this film sees Commandant Lassard start a new program that allows citizens to train at the academy with real police officers in an effort to build up a better relationship with the community. Essentially, it is a rehash of the first and third films but the little twist makes it a bit more interesting.

Billie Bird steals the show here as the elderly Mrs. Feldman. She is a tough as nails, take no shit, bad ass old lady that is the perfect compliment to the big gun-toting maniac that is Sgt. Tackleberry.

Sharon Stone is in this film too but you’ll barely notice. You can also enjoy the small roles played by a young David Spade, Brian Backer and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo by Tony Hawk.

Also, due to a bad back injury that Art Metrano suffered, Mauser was out of the picture and G.W. Bailey’s Capt. Harris was brought back as the antagonist of the series. Harris and Proctor together were even better than Mauser and Proctor in the two previous films.

The gags are great, the pranks are awesome and this film embodies the spirit of the installments before it. Unfortunately, it is the last film to star Steve Guttenberg and a drop off in quality over the course of the next three films was a result. We also lost Goldthwait and Kazurinsky after this chapter in the series and they were definitely missed.

The highlight of this movie is the big action sequence at the end, which featured biplanes, hot air balloons and a whole lot of mayhem.

Film Review: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.

Film Review: The Stuff (1985)

Also known as: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Anthony Guefen, Richard Seaman (jingles)
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

The Stuff was a film that flew under the radar when it came out in 1985. Its theatrical release was very limited. Also, when it was released in New York City, a hurricane hit on that day and newspapers weren’t able to be delivered. Apparently, as the director Larry Cohen claims, the film had good reviews that never made it into the audience’s hands. In 2017, the film does hold a 70 percent critics’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

There was also probably some genre confusion about the film. While it appears to be a horror film in all its marketing material, which it is, the film is also a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the health fads of the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of “diet”-branded foods hit the market that people jumped on like hotcakes covered in crack cocaine.

I never even heard of this film until the early 1990s and I was a kid that spent a great deal of time in video stores, wherever I went. I think that most people discovered this later, as it has since developed a pretty large cult following.

One thing this film has, is pretty brilliant special effects. Different substances were used throughout the movie to represent “The Stuff”, as it moved and attacked people. The scene with a lake of “The Stuff” was done by superimposing imagery and using animation techniques. It came off great for a film from this era with a very small budget. Also, the rotating bedroom set used in two scenes of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is used in The Stuff to recreate the same effect but instead of blood crawling up the walls, we get homicidal marshmallow goo.

The effects that were especially cool where when people’s bodies started to rip apart and ooze out “The Stuff”. The scene, at the end, where Garrett Morris’ head starts to tear apart is a fantastic practical effect and still pretty horrifying.

Now the acting is far from commendable but this picture does feature the always great Garrett Morris as well as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino. Also, Michael Moriarty’s “Mo” is an entertaining character.

The Stuff is a fun movie and it is hokey in all the right ways. I’d almost like to see a sequel that is sort of the reverse of this that pokes fun at all the anti-GMO hysteria and the religiously pro-organic people.

Film Review: Eating Raoul (1982)

Release Date: March 24th, 1982
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Richard Blackburn
Music by: Arlon Ober
Cast: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Susan Saiger, Ed Begley Jr., Buck Henry, Edie McClurg, Don Steele

Bartel Films Incorporated, Quartet, 20th Century Fox, 83 Minutes

Review:

Eating Raoul is the film where the team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov really cemented itself. While Bartel had directed before, this is his first real effort without the involvement of Roger Corman.

The film is, more or less, a black comedy that pokes fun at a lot of the cultural things that made up the 1980s. The free love movement has run its course, greed is everywhere and everyone is pretty much self-absorbed and blinded by their own desires.

The film follows the prudish Blands (played by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov). They are in serious financial trouble and are also continually harassed and repulsed by the swingers that seem to be everywhere in their Hollywood apartment complex. After murdering a swinger who was trying to rape Mrs. Bland, the two discover he is loaded. They then devise a scheme to knock off swingers and to take their cash. This gets them mixed up with Raoul (Robert Beltran), a shady locksmith. Raoul gives the Blands money for the “cadavers” and they all three scheme to get rich, as Raoul has his eyes on Mrs. Bland. We get a whole lot of hilarious insanity, a love triangle and a high society swingers party that makes up a fantastic finale.

Eating Raoul is a film that is a lot smarter than it initially appears to be. Bartel and Richard Blackburn wrote a stupendous script, which was only enhanced by the talents of Bartel, Woronov and Beltran on the screen. While the stars aren’t comic veterans, at this point, they have the timing and the presence of more experienced players.

Eating Raoul is a film that is greater than what one would assume is the sum of its parts in 1982. It was a small comedy that would’ve normally just come and gone and disappeared forever but somehow, the true talent of Bartel and Woronov comes through and this thing was a surprising hit and has thus achieved cult classic status. There is even a Criterion Collection version of the film.

Film Review: The Tao of Steve (2000)

Release Date: January 26th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jenniphr Goodman
Written by: Duncan North, Greer Goodman, Jenniphr Goodman
Music by: Joe Delia
Cast: Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, James Kimo Wills, David Aaron Baker

Good Machine, Sony Pictures Classics, 87 Minutes

Review:

I never saw the Tao of Steve until now. However, throughout the years since it came out, I heard many people talk about it with enthusiasm. Leonard Maltin even devotes a chapter to it in his book 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. Plus, I have always been a fan of Donal Logue.

Unfortunately, this movie didn’t resonate with me like it did with other people. Maybe it’s because I watched it now, seventeen years after its release. So it doesn’t tap into nostalgia but instead feels like a film full of some of the worst 1990s romantic comedy cliches.

It is enjoyable in the fact that Logue is as charismatic as ever but even then his presence is bogged down by less talented actors and a script that feels like it was written by philosophy majors that were only one semester deep but thought they had reached some sort of twenty-something enlightenment.

Additionally, the music is dated in a bad way. Yes, there are great tunes from the late 90s but The Tao of Steve uses some lowest common denominator safe pop rock dreck that needs to just stay in the 90s and not venture out into the year 2000 (or beyond), when this film was released.

I don’t know if it’s a Santa Fe thing but the fashion in the film feels incredibly dated, even for 2000. In fact, the guys all look slobbish and the girls all look like tomboys at a Smash Mouth concert.

The Tao of Steve is not as interesting as you would think. His zen philosophy on picking up women has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but then again, that is part of the plot. Still, you can see the holes from a mile away but this film tries to play it up a lot more than it should.

It feels like this film tried to use Donal Logue in a way to create their own version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. However, despite Logue’s strong performance, the script isn’t even a tenth as brilliant as the Coen’s Lebowski script.

I don’t want to hate on this film, I went into it expecting to like it. For me, it just failed in all the parts that aren’t Donal Logue.

Film Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Directed by: Anna Biller
Written by: Anna Biller
Music by: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 120 Minutes

Review:

The Love Witch definitely flew under the radar when it came out back in November of 2016. Granted, I doubt anywhere near me had it in the theater anyway. I did see a trailer recently though and it captivated me from a stylistic standpoint. Also, I saw that this was pretty well regarded by critics, as it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So when it dropped on Amazon Video, I had to check it out.

I haven’t seen Anna Biller’s other film Viva but after seeing The Love Witch, I am pretty stoked to check that one out too.

In a nutshell, the story follows a witch named Elaine. We learn that she went through a lot of emotional turmoil after her husband left her well before the start of the film. Since that time, she turned towards witchcraft and found herself, in a sense. She uses her power to attract men through magical means but her love spells come with unforeseen and tragic consequences. This doesn’t deter her, however, as she is hellbent on finding a man that will love her.

Elaine is played by virtual unknown Samantha Robinson. Robinson is absolutely stellar in her role and I hope that this opens doors for her because this film is destined to grow into a cult classic and develop a loyal following. She is alluring in the right way and even though she has selfish motivations and seems to be mostly indifferent to the negative effects of her magic, you still feel deeply for her and want her to find find love, at least in the beginning. As she gets deeper into her schemes and her cycle of wreckage continues, she goes on from being a sad and tragic character to an out of control despicable narcissist. Realistically, she was this all along but as the film progresses, you come to understand that she will not stop until she is satisfied and by this point, you know that she will never be satisfied.

When I read about the production of this film, I was pretty astounded by the level of detail and design that went into it. Not only is it directed, written and musically scored by Anna Biller but she also did the paintings that populate the film and made the costumes, as well. Everything is visually enchanting and the attention to detail really makes the film take on a life of its own, existing in a surreal and magical world but still feeling grounded in reality, in some way.

The Love Witch looks like a picture from the 60s or 70s. It has vibrant giallo-like tones, which serve the film more than just being window dressing. The tea room scenes are exceptionally beautiful. On top of that, everything is well shot; the cinematography is perfect through its lighting and in the way that it captures the vivid and lively visual tones. It is a fantastical film but it feels lived in and real, which isn’t an easy feat with something so stylized.

This is a highly entertaining film. The only thing I can really be nitpicky about is the running time. It comes in at exactly two hours and it moves along nicely but the second act felt like it could have moved along a wee bit quicker.

The Love Witch is enchanting, mostly due to its visual style and the execution and allure of its star. Also, it benefits from the use of its presentational acting style. It feels more like a stage performance where we, the audience, are sitting front row and drawn deeply into the production. Additionally, the dialogue in just about every scene is perfect. I loved the banter in this movie and it was incredibly well-written and presented on screen.

I was surprised by how much I liked the film and I appreciate how much effort went into it. While I wouldn’t consider this a picture for everyone, it is certainly one that will find its audience and develop a much deserved level of respect and admiration.

Film Review: Tango & Cash (1989)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky, Peter MacDonald (uncredited), Albert Magnoli (uncredited), Stuart Baird (uncredited)
Written by: Randy Feldman, Jeffrey Boam (rewrites)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, Geoffrey Lewis, Eddie Bunker, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z’Dar, Lewis Arquette, Roy Brocksmith, Clint Howard

The Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

I used to really like Tango & Cash when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I hadn’t really seen it since then. Having seen it now, though, I can state that this movie did not age well. It probably wasn’t very good, even for 1989 standards, but it is incredibly cheesy and hokey but not in any way that is endearing.

Sure, I love Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell but the two of them deserved a better vehicle for a team-up movie. The plot was weak and a big chunk of the movie was spent in prison, where Stallone just escaped from in his previous film, also from 1989, Lock Up. However, Stallone was also entering a bad period for his career, as this film was followed up by Rocky V (most people hate it, I don’t), Oliver and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

At least we got to see these two in the same film again in 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, even though they didn’t share any scenes together. But I did find it strange that Russell was not in any Expendables picture.

The film also gives us the legendary Jack Palance, Brion James (a fantastic 80s villain player), James Hong (most beloved as Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China, another Kurt Russell film), Marc Alaimo (another great villain character actor and Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Robert Z’Dar (the Maniac Cop himself), as well as a young Teri Hatcher, the always weird Clint Howard and Michael J. Pollard, a guy I’ve always enjoyed in his small roles.

However, even with all the great people in this film, it is still a total dud. Maybe that has something to do with script rewrites. Maybe it is because this film went through four directors. Yes… four!

Whatever the reasons, Tango & Cash is a film that is much less than the some of its pretty great parts. It is really disappointing, actually. It could have worked, it should have worked but it was a total bust in every way.

Yes, there are some fun moments in the film but nowhere near enough to make this thing worth anyone’s time. It isn’t necessarily horrible but it shows how bad the “buddy cop” formula can be, if everything in the movie misses its mark.

Does it deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? I’d say that it does but just barely. So what we have here is a Type 1 stool, which is defined as “Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”