Ranking the Police Academy Movies

We sit through every Police Academy movie, and work out which is the best. Spoiler: It's not the first one.

Watching all seven Police Academy movies, it becomes apparent that their spiritual successors are Adam Sandler’s recent output, or the Date Movie and Meet the Spartans films. Every year another rushed and complacent piece of filler, greeted with critical maulings, surprisingly good box office returns and filmed with a distinct air of “this’ll do.”

Police Academy had the potential to be good. Unlike Meet the Spartans they actually bothered to put some jokes in, and most of these weren’t bad. It’s just that the tundra-like interim between one joke and the next is filled with words that take the form of jokes, but neglect to include anything of substance behind the words. Listen to Steve Guttenberg. He sounds like he’s wisecracking, but there is no wisdom there. It’s like they wrote placeholders and then forgot to do another draft.

There’s some pedigree in one of the writing team though. Pat Proft was later to co-write The Naked Gun and Hot Shots! films (let’s not mention the Scary Movie productions and draw a discrete veil over Mr Magoo) and worked with the Zucker brothers prior to Airplane!

The Police Academy theme and situation both draw inspiration from Animal House, scoring the film as if it were a drama (for the earlier films, at least) and having basically the same fraternity-style setting. There’s plenty of scope for a great comedy in this set-up.

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Police Academy has moments that approach its influences, but they’re only moments. The franchise never gains any momentum. It remakes the same film to a rigid formula (five minutes of setup, an hour of sketches, and a twenty minute action finale that’s probably on water) and puts in a few amusing gags in near the start to lull you into a false sense of hope. The characters are scarcely realized one-note jokes stretched dementedly thin, some of the cast have no comic timing, and the pace is akin to a slug nailed to a milk float.

So. The question that’s kept you all awake at night all these years…like trying to separate seven different brands of milk based on sight alone… how is Den of Geek going to rank the seven Police Academy movies? In reverse order of quality, then…

7. Police Academy 5 – Assignment: Miami Beach

This is just an excuse to send the crew to Miami while staging a series of jokes Last of the Summer Wine rejected for being too safe and boring. I can’t remember the last time I found someone falling in the water funny, and this film is really banking on some sort of intrinsic hilarity in the process of human/liquid insertion.

What does the writer think when he writes this? Is he laughing? Does he care? The jokes in this one are a distant memory fifty minutes in. Steve Guttenberg’s commitments on Three Men And A Baby (plus his not unwise decision that he was done with the franchise) meant he was replaced by Matt McCoy, who played Commandant Lassard’s nephew.

If you’ve ever wondered what the lowest a man can go is, I would suggest that playing the Scrappy Doo of Police Academy is down there somewhere. Then Captain Harris starts narrating his masterplan in this one like he’s Old Man Withers, just to underline the Hanna-Barbera comparisons.

There is quite a good motorbike stunt near the end, to be fair (they really take their action sequences seriously in this franchise). Then they tease us with the idea that Hightower (the late Bubba Smith) has drowned fighting an alligator. Imagine if they’d actually gone with that. That’d be an amazingly jarring ending.

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But they didn’t.

Watch Police Academy 5 – Assignment: Miami Beach on Amazon

6. Police Academy 4 – Citizens On Patrol

It opens with possibly the most ’80s moment in the franchise (up against some very stiff competition): Michael Winslow and Steve Guttenberg dancing in their police car to “Citizens on Patrol” by Michael Winslow and the L.A. Dream Team, complete with Guttenberg saying “Hit it brother.” It’s all very, very Poochie and now I never want to listen to music again. Still, no Police Academy film starts well. All of them instill a slow burning dread in much the same way as the first guttural rumblings the morning after a chili binge.

There’s some skateboarding in this one just to distract you from the fact that this is the same plot again. Eventually they decide they’ve padded things out enough and so a big crime happens near the end, and all the characters Captain Harris doesn’t like end up saving the day.

Watch Police Academy 4 – Citizens On Patrol on Amazon

Though I do like the bit where Tackleberry eats with his in-laws and looks appalled at what he sees. It’s like he suddenly knows how the audience must feel.

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Nonetheless, it’s hard to know where this film peaks. Here’s the “Citizens On Patrol” rap while you ponder that…

On to the next disaster…

5. Police Academy 7 – Mission To Moscow

Just look at that picture above, for a start.

Anyway. Ron Perlman. Christopher Lee. Clare Forliani. That guy from Diagnosis Murder who isn’t related to Dick van Dyke. Quite the cast. As ever there are some bits near the start that are recognisable as jokes, but it does feel a bit like it was filmed in conjunction with the Russian Tourist Board (which doesn’t have any allure now they’ve gone terrifying again).

This one followed five years after Police Academy 6, and is by distance the lowest grossing of the series, and the most expensive to make. That said, the budget only stretched to allow five of the regulars to take part. Hence, the smaller central cast.

What grates about this film specifically is the array of idiotic sound effects that just stop making sense. Ron Perlman gets kneed in the balls and there’s the sound of a cow mooing. I’m pretty good at tangential leaps of logic but I just don’t have the will to make a connection there.

The high point of this film is Christopher Lee throwing something at Michael Winslow for making noises, because this hasn’t happened in the preceding six films despite it obviously being him who’s doing it.

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Watch Police Academy 7 – Mission To Moscow on Amazon

4. Police Academy 6 – City Under Siege

Captain Harris gets a good joke at the start of this film. This is possibly the only time this happens in the entire franchise.

The recurring antagonists in Police Academy, Captains Harris and Mauser, are humourless racist dullards who take up about a third of the film. They get pranks played on them. These are old jokes, done better by circus clowns and silent film stars, regurgitated here. Bad guys can be entertaining (HerculesIn BrugesThe Dark KnightLong John Silver…), but the ones in Police Academy aren’t even good comedy dickheads. And they had two goes at writing one.

On the bright side, Otto from Malcolm In The Middle (aka George Mars) turns up here, and none of the jokes die on their ass for the first ten minutes. Then City Under Siege remembers it’s a Police Academy film and all its energy dissipates rapidly. This one’s also got a composer who wants you to know that it’s meant to be funny, which is pitiful. They really cared about the plot in this one too, with an actual mystery to solve. The last hour is everyone in the squad getting a fight scene, like a Police Academy version of The Avengers.

This is a children’s film (there isn’t even a joke about Callahan’s breasts, which is usually 70% of her material) and in that respect, it’s probably the most successful on its own terms since the original, but there is another cringeworthy rap scene. Hightower threatens to shoot them if they’re lying, which almost makes the preceding minute worth it.

On that note, how has Tackleberry never shot anyone? In fact, how do these people still have jobs? Why am I questioning the internal logic of Police Academy? What went so wrong with my life?

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Watch Police Academy 6 – City Under Siege on Amazon

3. Police Academy

The thing is, despite The Simpsons‘ insistence that nobody was laughing, I do remember seeing Police Academy movies on TV and enjoying them when I was in primary school. Therein lies the problem with the first Police Academy – it’s aimed at adults, but it’s much funnier when you’re eight, even if you don’t quite get the podium scene. When you’re older, the best thing about it is probably Ted Ross’ moustache.

It sets out the franchise’s stall by being frustratingly inconsistent. Occasionally it tries Airplane! style outlandish visual gags mixed with moments of gross-out, but its main stock in trade is lame, deadpan sarcasm. Long, slow scenes bereft of jokes sag without momentum before a good gag arrives like a mercy killing.

Also unexpected upon revisiting the film: it’s depiction of police racism. The cadets, the Chief and the Lieutenant are all brazenly racist, and the police is shown to be institutionally so, yet weirdly the focus is on cocky pervert and-human-equivalent-of-Anne-Robinson’s-wink, Steve Guttenberg. Considering this film makes such a big thing of the bad guys being racist, it’d make more sense to focus on Hightower (who saves the day, in the end) rather than Mahoney.

Mahoney is clearly meant to be the winning, charismatic anti-authority figure, cheerfully saying stuff like “Sleep’s for fags” and watching women in the shower without any fear of him suffering Jim-from-American-Pie style indignities. Even allowing for changing times, he just comes across as a smarmy, punchable dickhead, which isn’t great when he’s supposed to be the counterpoint to institutionalized racism and homophobia.

The original Police Academy film, then, the one held up to the be the highpoint of the series, turns out not to be. It might just be the weakest comedy to ever spawn six sequels.

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Watch Police Academy on Amazon

2. Police Academy 2 – Their First Assignment

This is like a SyFy film. Just as those fail at being a proper drama, these fail at being a comedy. Admittedly, if you want a laugh, it’s not a terrible idea to watch a SyFy film.

It is said that the secret to great comedy is timing. Police Academy movies demonstrate this by consistently deploying their occasional punchlines with Fernando Torres-like accuracy. The gags start, but they’re delivered listlessly, they don’t feel like they’re trying very hard to make us laugh. Like they’ve hired the tenth best actor available for most of the roles. Meanwhile, Steve Guttenberg is still wearing cut offs. Fuck you, the Eighties.

Fortunately Bobcat Goldthwait appears to have brought his own sense of chronology with him, and when you can make out what he’s saying, his and the old guy in the police station’s performance produce some laughs. Goldthwait’s scenes aren’t hilarious, but they are noticeably better than everything else in the movie, and his oddness makes him slightly threatening. It means the ending has a hint of tension to it, but is also quite funny. This is the only time the franchise would achieve this balance in its climactic scenes, as the finales became more action-orientated.

A superior effort to the first one then, but mainly due to the guest actors.

Watch Police Academy 2 – Their First Assignment on Amazon

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1. Police Academy 3 – Back In Training

The third installment of Police Academy has actually got a decent Airplane! silliness going for it. It starts referring to the previous two films, including a joke you only get if you’ve seen the first one. It’s indulgent, but it’s also really not bad. And quite entertaining.

Here, it’s like they’ve finally worked out how to make the concept work. Like the opposite of Taken. Although it’s also here that the franchise becomes really dedicated to having overlong and serious action sequences that nobody really cares about. No one has ever said, “Well, they’re not funny, but I do love Police Academy‘s commitment to half hour slap-bass-soundtracked speedboat chases.”

The downside is that a good Police Academy movie is at best a three star movie, assuming the reviewer is in a good mood. It’s not a franchise entirely without merit; it’s just that the best jokes involving it appeared in Wayne’s World and The Simpsons. The theme music is probably the best thing about it, with Robert Folk’s legendary earworm deserving of a better series to play in front of.

Watch Police Academy 3 – Back In Training on Amazon

In a 2012 interview Michael Winslow – once the interviewer had politely glossed over his Alastair McGowan-like insistence of doing impressions even though no one wants him to – said that an eighth Police Academy film was on its way, as have been rumored for years. Recent suggestions involve a reboot, or the original cast schooling new cadets. You may be surprised to learn that this makes sense to me, and I hope it emerges from development hell to see the light of day.

After all, if you’re going to remake movies, why not do the ones that were never very good in the first place?

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This article comes from Den of Geek UK.