Hollywood comedies and the Police Academy effect

News Simon Brew
2 Jun 2011 - 10:29

Why are Hollywood comedy sequels doing what we used to criticise the Police Academy films for? And why are they getting away with it?

When Meet The Fockers opened, back in December 2004, it taught Hollywood that Police Academy-alike comedy sequels were okay again. Because all Meet The Fockers realistically did was change around the jokes from Meet The Parents, throw in a swearing baby, add a few new cast members, and slap it out to $516m of worldwide box office business.

I don't think that the original Meet The Parents is a classic, but I did enjoy it. It had one or two ideas of its own, played Robert De Niro against type in a better way than Analyze This managed, and it made me laugh. Meet The Fockers? Were it not for the film that would follow, I'd class it as one of the laziest sequels of recent times.

But then there's Little Fockers. A film that, basically, wasn't about Little Fockers at all, rather that it concerned itself with - yes! - telling pretty much the same jokes again, just less convincingly.

Also: anyone who cared about cinema after seeing Robert De Niro reduced to what Little Fockers made him do would be hoping that Martin Scorsese would have a word with his old friend.

As I noted in my review of Little Fockers last December, it was full of the kind of laziness that the Police Academy films used to be lambasted for. And yet, somehow, that seems to be okay now.

Fitting the template, too, is The Hangover Part II, a film with barely an original bone in its body. This is also more interested in just going through the same motions in a different place, and if it gets to a fifth film, it'd be little surprise to see The Hangover Part 5 set on Miami Beach.

That's not to say that some of the sequels are without laughs. It's just they're ambition-free, tired, and short-changing those who liked the respective franchises from which they were spawned.

At least with Little Fockers, the box office numbers were down on the last instalment, which may discourage further bad spins on the word "focker". When De Niro uttered the "godfocker" line, a part of me died on the spot.

In the spirit of completeness, I should point out that Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son was a re-spin of the same jokes, too. But virtually nobody went to see that, so hopefully all concerned have got the message.

The irony is that the trend for lazy comedy sequels is arriving at a time when the quality of follow-ups appears to be on the increase. The latest instalments of Kung Fu Panda, Fast & Furious and Batman were all improvements on the films that immediately preceded them, and yet the few major comedies that do spawn sequels aren't following that trend at all.

Yet sequels to comedies are hard, which is why Police Academy followed the same template time after time. When you think back to the follow-ups to the likes of Caddyshack, Porky's, Dumb And Dumber, Home Alone, Scary Movie, The Blues Brothers, Bruce Almighty, Look Who's Talking, Teen Wolf and Sister Act, the memories do not tend to be fond.

In Hollywood's defence, when it does bother to make a comedy sequel worthy of your time - Addams Family Values, A Very Brady Sequel, Gremlins 2 (although that's not a perfect example) - then box office gold does not follow.

There are further films that came through pretty much unscathed and still managed to make cash. The first Austin Powers sequel, although boasting a trailer that was better than the film itself, wasn't bad. The second Austin Powers sequel, though, was firmly in Police Academy territory.

But then there's an argument that that's what we want. That when we buy a ticket for a comedy sequel, what we're actually after is the same characters doing the same things that they did last time. Perhaps with a fresh addition to the cast, if there's time. Certainly the success of the Fockers and Hangover films would point to that.

If that's the case, and evidence suggests that it is, then when the inevitable Police Academy reboot and follow-ups start to come through, our grumbles might just fall on deafer ears than usual.

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