When the Police Academy Gang Made a Horror Movie

Steve Guttenberg headlines what's supposed to be a reunion of the Police Academy cast. Life doesn't always work out as promised, though...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

To the nearest $1 million, the final Police Academy movie – Police Academy: Mission To Moscow – took a tidy $1 million at the box office. It brought to a tragic end a movie franchise that had delighted surely a few people in its latter years, and certain given the office photocopiers a workout, as jokes were religiously recycled en masse. The Hangover series would put a better gloss on the recycling jokes schtick, and repeat the trick across its sequels many years later, to better commercial return.

Police Academy producer Paul Maslansky – who also tried to turn Ski Patrol into a series, foiled by the fact that barely anyone went to see the first and only one – has talked about rebooting Police Academy since. Most of the original cast are still with us, too, save for the brilliant David Graf (Tackleberry), Bubba Smith (Hightower), and George Gaynes (Commandant Lassard). Basically, a chunk of the core ensemble are available, and have been waiting for the call to return for a fresh Police Academy adventure. But the call, unfortunately, never came.

Hence, Lavalantula.

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This is a film that centres on Steve Guttenberg, a washed-up movie star of the ’90s who’s taken on a bug movie for $10,000. Going by the name of Colton West, we learn that he’s been the star of such movie franchises as Crazy Cops and Red Robot, and I know even typing this that nobody really cares. Instead, you’ve been drawn to this film for the same reason I was: it’s the cast of the Police Academy movies, just in a sort-of-horror film. Asda – and other supermarkets selling DVDs are available – had this next to Star Wars: Rogue One in my local store. One coin toss later, and Rogue One could wait.

It turns out, of course, that it’s a dose of trash that’s been doing the rounds for a little while. Spun out of the Sharknado series, Lavalantula was first shown on Syfy in the US back in 2015, and I’ve barely found mention of it since. That notwithstanding, I armed myself with some of those new strawberry and vanilla Calippos (6/10 from me for them), and settled in.

Watch Lavantula on Amazon. We Dare You.

Purveyors of The Asylum and Syfy attempts to recreate the feel of B-movies will know what they’re getting here. A perfunctory bit of plot, to get to some special effects that have been produced with second hand computers bought off ILM. That’s less snooty than it sounds, mind. Lavalantula, a word that only seven of the 49 human beings who have ever tried managed to pronounce correctly the first time, is a solid audit as to what $20,000 or so’s worth of effects can buy you. Some lava and half-decent spiders is the answer. Given that London Has Fallen, for one, cost $105 million to make and had effects that looked like Call Of Duty a generation back, Lavalantula does offer a decent recent in that sense. Don’t get carried away and start giving it awards or anything, though.

Thing is, it’s easy to look down on micro budget stuff like this. Yet who knows where the next big filmmaker is going to come from? Jennifer Yuh Nelson cut her teeth on the basic animated movies that used to go straight to bargain stores, and now she’s one of the highest grossing female directors of all time, courtesy of the Kung Fu Panda series. The late Jonathan Demme was one of many schooled by the low budget ways of Roger Corman – a model that Jason Blum has expanded on for his Blumhouse outfit, offering filmmakers low budgets in exchange for final cut – and while The Asylum has lower ambitions, everyone needs a break, right?

In this case, it’s director Mike Mendez, who worked on the likes of NCIS and CSI before giving the world Big Ass Spider! Here, he knows the trade off is he has to shoot lots of explanatory conversation scenes to stretch the budget (he does throw in a Raiders Of The Lost Ark boulder-rip-off at one moment, though, as well as a just on the right side of legal Pirates Of The Caribbean homage), reckoning he has but 10 minutes out of 80 that he can spend on effects. At one stage, he decides to have a man dressed as a spider fight a spider. Sadly, it’s less fun that it sounds.

The other concession to budget is you don’t actually get the cast of Police Academy for very long. This is less forgivable. Sure, you get shirtless Guttenberg stealing a bus, and in his own way giving us his own spin on Last Action Hero. His character also needs to reconnect with his son for reasons that are of no human interest. But everyone else? They’re shuttled in for quick cameos. You get them at the start, and then Winslow and Ramsey finally return an hour later. But by then, they’re plotting how to beat the big spiders, and – presumably fearing legal interest – the references to glories old are all but gone.

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I can’t be the only person who put the DVD in to hear Michael Winslow recreate his collection of noises. But we get, what, five minutes with him in all? It’s like a Police Academy reunion where everyone but Steve Guttenberg got given the wrong time. There’s the odd concession and acknowledgement of the series elsewhere in the film – “they took out the Blue Oyster. I loved that place,” says pretend Captain Jack Sparrow (really) at one stage – but for Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook and Winslow, the DVD packaging may as well provide you with a spotter book, so you can at least tick ‘em off once you see them.

Still, Ralph Garman is good fun here as the aforementioned Jack Sparrow knock-off, and 24 fans who wonder just what happened to that fella who played Tony Almeida Isn’t Dead Really will get their answer, as Carlos Bernard duly picks up his cheque. 24: Legacy couldn’t come along quickly enough, though.

On the plus side too, there’s little question that everyone’s in on the gag.

But when you yearn for the film to at least have an equitable number of laughs as a Police Academy sequel, it’d be fair to say a little alarm has long been going off. By the time the film is directly mirroring and quoting a moment from Jurassic Park, that old adage of invoke the memory of other, better films at your peril has long been proven.

The cheapest moment, incidentally, and this is a competitive contest, is the Basil Exposition-type Doctor/Professor/scientist character, clambering into a helicopter with the full chopper sound effect going. Only for the camera to leave the fact that the rotors aren’t turning fully in shot.

Yet I think I still want that horror movie with the Police Academy cast that I was sold. In fact, what I think what I’d like to see now is a big screen version of the PlayStation 4 game Until Dawn, but with Police Academy characters, to bring a bit of a choose your own adventure element to the fun. Plus, then you get to replay it, changing just a few plot elements next time you play, accurately reflecting one of the core components of the Police Academy business plan.

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Guttenberg has since followed this up with a sequel, 2 Lava 2 Tarantula, where only two Police Academy alumni joined him. Another film is coming. But Lavalantula: Tokyo Drift is surely just a meeting and a beermat’s worth of plot away, where all of his co-stars will have deserted him, ready to rejoin him for the fourth film in the series. That’s how this stuff work, right? And then Statham will turn up two films later? Right?