There is a pretty good documentary included with the DVD collection in which it is revealed that producer Paul Maslansky got the idea for the whole premise of Police Academy when he was working on Hot Stuff in the late 1970s. Evidently there was a police force in charge of crowd control during the making of that movie that was, ah, interestingly diverse to the point that it caught Maslansky's attention and inspired him to approach a sergeant and ask him why there were so many gym class drop-outs on the force. The sergeant replied that they had a fair employment policy in place that compelled them to accept any applicant who took an interest in becoming an officer, but then with a wink he explained that they could flunk out whoever they wanted after three weeks. Instantly, a light bulb popped on above Maslansky's head.
Do you see what this means? Police Academy is based on a true story!!
In response to public discontent as a result of a crime wave that has been sweeping the city, the Mayor puts in place a new rule forcing the Police Department to accept any new applicant regardless of age, height, weight, sex, background, attitude, religion, nationality, IQ, criminal history, or SAT score, which causes the police academy to be bombarded with societal aberrations the likes of which would surely cause the public more concern than the criminals causing the crime wave in the first place.
No nonsense Police Chief Henry Hurst is immediately and thoroughly appalled at the new ruling as he watches the dregs of society flood his beloved police academy, while Commandant Lassard sits in his chair and cheerfully allows the curious developments of life to happen around him as they will. Most of the recruits that become central to the story are honest people who really want to be police officers, except for Casey Mahoney (Steve Guttenburg, in a career-making-and-then-breaking role), who is forced into the academy as an alternative to jail.
How could anyone at any time ever be offered the choice of becoming a police officer or going to jail? Watch the movie and you'll find out, but it doesn't really matter. It has to do with Mahoney having a powerful father, but the point is that Mahoney is a smart-ass who has not a scrap of respect for authority and who is determined to get himself booted out of the academy before lunch on the first day. The academy is equally happy to be rid of him, but for circumstances beyond either of their controls, this is not an option. It's a preposterous situation, but you have to admire it's simplicity and effectiveness in paving the way for a whole movie full of slapstick hilarity.
The rest of the relevant cast provide the springboard from which six sequels sprouted in subsequent years. Indeed, the plots of the movies run a distant second to who is back for each subsequent movie. Moses Hightower is a towering black man who became tired of being a florist, of all things, and decided to become a cop. His counterpart is Cadet Hooks, a mousy black woman with the voice of a stretched balloon who, among other things, must learn to speak with authority. Larvell Jones comes from a background similar to Mahoney's in a lot of ways but is better known for his ability to imitate the sound of almost anything (this was also a career-making-and-breaking role for Michael Winslow). Then there are Tackleberry, the trigger-happy but hilarious gun fanatic, Karen Thompson, the attractive cadet played by Kim Cattrall who provides a welcome distraction for Mahoney, the overweight and perfectly named Leslie Barbara (a man), and Doug Fackler, a priceless geek who is prone to cause accidents that don't affect himself. And overseeing them all is the delightfully creepy Lieutenant Harris, who is determined that they shall all fail miserably.
This should seem like an exceedingly easy task, but as they say, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers!
The first movie in the Police Academy saga follows little more than the adventures of the recruits described above as they work their way through the police academy. There is a delightful competition between Lieutenant Harris, who treats his job with deadly seriousness as needed to ensure his own advancement, and the rest of the recruits, with Commandant Lassard popping up occasionally to fulfill the duties of a man clearly more interested in goldfish than law enforcement, but it's impossible not to love the guy.
Speaking of which, Lassard is the, umm, "victim" of one of the movie's more childish and unamusing jokes. I am not sure how successful the joke was when the movie was first released (I was 5 years old at the time and can't remember my initial reaction), but it is an unfortunate representative of much of the rest of the movie.
Police Academy is a milestone in the evolution of the cheesy comedy, there are no two ways about that, but the comedy in the movie has, ah, not dated well. Modern audiences will find not a single genuinely funny moment in the entire movie, but it would be madness to say that this means the movie isn't any fun.
I remember when I was a kid I used to drive my brother nuts because I always wanted to watch Police Academy movies over and over again, but at some point I lost interest, and didn't gain interest again until about a week ago when I stumbled across the Police Academy DVD collection. But for an amusing trip to the comedy of the past, you can hardly do better. Grab a couple beers, bring your buddies over, and relish the comedy of your childhood. There were never any Academy Awards in mind, but I'm willing to bet that you can't watch this movie without having a little fun
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