Film Review: Fletch Lives (1989)

Also known as: Fletch Saved (working title)
Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Leon Capetanos
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Chevy Chase, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Libertini, Cleavon Little, Randall “Tex” Cobb, George Wyner, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Belzer, Phil Hartman

Cornelius Productions, Vincent Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am not a big man.” – Fletch

I was surprised that I liked this film as much as I did.

The reason being, I remember people trashing it pretty heavily when it came out. While I used to see pieces of it on television over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in its entirety in one viewing. But people did always say that this was a pretty shitty sequel and not on the level of the original.

Well, it’s not as good as Fletch but Fletch Lives is still a pretty funny movie that’s tailormade for Chevy Chase’s strengths. So while I have a much higher opinion of this movie than the majority, I feel like maybe I should defend it, as I feel like it probably deserves that.

I think that the new setting of the film actually helps it and makes it fresh. I liked seeing Fletch go to the bayou to expose some seedy shit. I also liked how they used it to emphasize the cultural clash between an L.A. investigative reporter and the Cajun folk, ranging from the good Southerners to the outright racist pieces of shit. I also loved the televangelical angle and R. Lee Ermey’s role as the megachurch pastor.

Beyond Ermey, I also enjoyed the great Hal Holbrook playing a crooked Cajun millionaire.

Additionally, I liked the chemistry between Chase and the film’s leading lady, Julianne Phillips.

Chase also had solid camaraderie with Cleavon Little. Seeing those two comedic icons come together is a real treat regardless of the perceived quality of the film.

This installment of the series relies more on Chase wearing funny costumes while “undercover”. I really like these sequences, though, and I like seeing Chase play odd characters.

Overall, Fletch Lives is pretty solid and I say that as a guy who was never a big Chase fan. However, I do really enjoy him as this character and I honestly think it’s his best.

Sadly, we never did get that third Fletch picture and I’m pretty sure the ship has sailed on that.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Golden Child (1986)

Release Date: December 12th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Dennis Feldman
Music by: Michel Colombier, John Barry
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Charlotte Lewis, Charles Dance, J. L. Reate, Victor Wong, James Hong, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Tiger Chung Lee, Pons Maar, Frank Welker (voice)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Industrial Light & Magic, Paramount Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Only a man whose heart is pure can wield the knife, and only a man whose ass is narrow can get down these steps. And if mine’s is such an ass, then I shall have it.” – Chandler Jarrell

Well, this didn’t age well.

The Golden Child is one of those movies you used to love when you were a kid but seeing it decades later leads to disappointment, as it doesn’t live up to your memories.

Now that’s not to say that this is a crappy movie, it’s just an overly hokey one that feels immensely outdated where the jokes don’t land in the same way they once did and for the most part, you’re just kind of waiting for it to wrap up.

Sure, Eddie Murphy is enjoyable in the film and I also always dig Charles Dance playing a villain but the story and its pacing were really sloppy.

This was a movie that did a lot of weird shit just to do weird shit. Frankly, I’m not sure why the villain’s henchmen were so goofy. I mean you have a guy that looks like a monkey for no real reason. Just save on some money and cut those facial prosthetic effects out of the film unless they serve some sort of narrative purpose other than creating a quick, bizarre gag that fizzled out almost immediately but then had to be stretched over the duration of the film. I’m also not sure why Randall “Tex” Cobb had to wear weird forehead prosthetics either.

Additionally, even though the effects work was handled by Industrial Light & Magic, the company born out of Star Wars, they aren’t very good, even for the time. I remember, even as a kid, I wasn’t all that impressed with the demon fight at the end. The flaws are also made more apparent by how the effects shots are all obscured by the immense glare of the sun or fake fog that exists in effects shots but then it’s absent when a shot cuts quickly to Eddie Murphy. But I can excuse it, as ILM was really experimenting with a lot of different special effects tech in an effort to get where they did by the time Jurassic Park rolled around seven years later.

In the end, this is a film that only really works because of Eddie Murphy’s charm. It’s strange and somewhat of a mess but if you have the nostalgia bug for this flick, it’ll probably still play okay. For those who have no memories or feelings about this movie, you might want to skip it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Eddie Murphy comedies from the ’80s and early ’90s.

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 Thomson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin, Ted Ross

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Good speech.” – Carey Mahoney

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.

Rating: 8.5/10

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:

“Don’t make me flare my nostrils!” – Zed

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.

Rating: 7.5/10

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 Thomson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.” – Captain Proctor

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.

Rating: 7.25/10

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 Thomson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk, Randall “Tex” Cobb

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!” – Captain Harris

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.

Rating: 7.25/10