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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

DRAGNET: COLLECTOR'S EDITION -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

I've heard several people over the years say that they liked, or even loved, the 1987 feature comedy adaptation of the classic TV cop series "Dragnet" starring Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks. To those people I would recommend Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release DRAGNET: COLLECTOR'S EDITION, which features a new 4K HD scan and an assortment of bonus features.

The film certainly is lively and full of blustery comedic action that people not all that familiar with the TV show can enjoy without a lot of bothersome comparisons to it.

Basically it's the story of a very straight-laced, by-the-book cop (Dan Ackroyd as Sgt. Joe Friday) and his flighty, fun-loving, all-rules-barred new partner "Pep" Streebek (Tom Hanks) having to work together--while constantly getting on each other's nerves--to stop a growing organization of deranged criminals bent on citywide chaos.

For these viewers the film offers a wealth of one-liners and raucous situations as Friday and Streebek must overcome their "odd couple" differences and eventually develop a grudging mutual respect.  The investigation into the crime group known as "P.A.G.A.N." (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) also yields wild car chases, lots of stunts, gorgeous babes, some romantic schmaltz, and a constant barrage of generic action-movie stuff to keep us occupied.

That said, as a longtime devoted fan of the actual TV series (both in its 1950s and 1960s incarnations), I find the movie as a whole to be consistently problematic.  (That's the first time I've ever used that word!)

As a parody of the series, the movie is surprisingly unsimilar to it despite the usual references to "just the facts, ma'am" and other tropes ("This is the city...I work here, I carry a badge", "The story you are about to see is true", etc.) and Friday's unyielding adherence to the rules and loyalty to strict civil order in general.

Ackroyd is actually playing the original Joe Friday's nephew, but his character is meant to be a carbon copy of his late uncle.  It's troubling, then, that he is so far off base in capturing Jack Webb's intonations and body language, instead doing a sort of generic stiff-backed type with clipped speech and no sense of humor.

The more human and even, at times, casual aspects of Webb's portrayal are lost in Ackroyd's robotic interpretation. It often seems as though he's doing more of a take-off on Robert Stack's Elliot Ness from "The Untouchables" than Webb's more haggard, world-weary cop.  And while the old Joe might occasionally hit a bad guy with a long, rapid-fire verbal scolding, this one tends to speechify every other time he opens his mouth.  

As for Hanks, still at the age where he looked like a big, goofy kid, he plays a new character whose main trait is a childlike disregard for propriety and is designed simply to clash with Joe Friday's dogged conservatism in comic ways.  Mostly it works, although the two are at such odds that we miss the teamwork and comradery of Friday and his loyal partners Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) and Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) from the TV series.

Speaking of Morgan, he plays the same character as before, now promoted to captain.  His devotion to his late partner doesn't carry over to the nephew, hence Captain Gannon spends much of the film bellowing at Friday and threatening to take away his badge (which he eventually does at the insistence of shrewish police commissioner Elizabeth Ashley).

The plot itself is a convoluted affair that bears little resemblance to the usual "Dragnet" investigations.  Friday's traditional "just the facts, ma'am" questioning of a civilian witness is represented by an unfunny exchange in which venerable comic actress Kathleen Freeman must portray a grotesquely foul-mouthed old lady who even has Streebek shaking his head along with Friday.

Dabney Coleman plays softcore sex magazine magnate Jerry Caesar, giving the film an excuse to be fully stocked with bikini babes, and Jack O'Halloran, the big, dumb member of the evil Kryptonian trio in SUPERMAN II, plays a big, dumb P.A.G.A.N. henchman who menaces the good guys.

Alexandra Paul is the button-cute Connie, a kidnapped virgin meant as a sacrifice in the bad guys' big pagan ritual but is rescued by the good guys and eventually develops romantic feelings for fellow virgin Friday. (Again, Jack Webb's Friday was a low-key sort of guy but he was never portrayed as either nerdy or virginal.)  The most surprising bit of casting is Christopher Plummer as a pious TV evangelist who may have a darker side.

But as I said before, all of these misgivings stem from my affection for the TV show and desire to see a more faithful parody of it.  As for everyone else, this "Dragnet" spoof may be a perfectly adequate and perhaps even gutbusting comedy romp.  If so, DRAGNET: COLLECTOR'S EDITION should prove an ideal way to enjoy it. 

Special Features:
NEW "A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail": An Interview With Co-Star Alexandra Paul
NEW Audio Commentary with Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball
"Just the Facts!": A Promotional Look at Dragnet with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks
Original Theatrical Trailers & Promos
Photo Gallery 

Buy it from Shout! Factory


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