"Dragnet" is the type of low-budget 80s movie that you love to love. It's cheesy. It's fun. And it's incredibly stupid. Yet somehow actors Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks manage to rise above the material and make this one of the more memorable cop-buddy action-comedies out there.
Make no mistake about it; "Dragnet" is not a remake of the world-renowned and well-loved series. It's a parody. From Aykroyd's contorted facial features that imply he is suffering from a serious case of constipation, to Hanks' fun role as his New Age partner, this movie knows that it stands no chance against competing with the series itself, so it aims for the funny bone. It mimics the biggest cop-buddy clichés and television stereotypes and, unless you're open enough, you may think that the clichés are actually being used seriously. But you'd be wrong--from the opening credits, "Dragnet" knows exactly what it is doing. And it stays that way throughout the entire film. Well, almost.
Occasionally it gets a bit TOO cheesy and glossy -- the opening credits with a revamped theme song, a sacrifice scene (fun but nevertheless very silly), and the last standard shoot-out/car-chase/buddy bonding fifteen minutes or so become disappointing. But the film more than makes up for itself in other areas.
Dan Aykroyd is strikingly accurate as Joe Friday, nephew of the original but still carrying the chiseled features of his uncle, the straight hat and freshly ironed suit, along with the monotone voice. ("Just the facts.")
Tom Hanks is having lots of fun as Streebeck, Friday's new partner who--on the first day of work and filling in the shoes of Friday's preceding partner--arrives completely happy and oblivious of his flaws in a broken-down car and illeva (wearing) shaggy, shredded clothes and a big bushy beard. That won't do. Off with the beard, in with an ironed blue suit and handsome haircut.
The two cops are put on a case involving recent "pagan murders." We later find out that P.A.G.A.N. stands for People Against Good and Normalty (I wonder how long it took them to come up with that slogan). The leader of the occult is none other than a prominent figure of the city, played by the strange Christopher Plummer, who seems adamant in proving that he can play dark roles. (He personally refers to "The Sound of Music" as "The Sound of Mucus." In short, he hates the film for typecasting him as a cheery father figure.)
Dan Aykroyd seems born to play this role. The Canadian actor has had his fair share of bad films ("Nothing But Trouble," "My Girl 2," "Feeling Minnesota," "Crossroads"), but he's also had his fair share of great films ("The Blues Brothers," "Ghostbusters," and, in my humble opinion, the campy, cheesy "The Great Outdoors"). "Dragnet" ranks as one of his better films and better roles--he plays his character with such ease and joy it's hard to imagine anyone else as Joe. (Why is it that films and television shows from the fifties and sixties always named their heroes Frank or Joe?)
It's clearly evident that Tom Hanks is enjoying himself as Streebeck -- and who wouldn't be? He gets to play the laidback, new generation cop that doesn't take things as seriously as, perhaps, they should be taken. Joe Friday seems to have been stuck in some sort of time vault, or maybe his uncle overly influenced him. Either way, they're complete opposites, and it's fun to have Aykroyd marching forward while Hanks hangs back and shrugs his shoulders. Tom Hanks made a lot of "fun" movies during the eighties. Another guilty pleasure of mine is the lovable "Turner and Hootch," a film that though clichéd and extremely predictable is just as fun as "Dragnet." Here, Hanks plays the loose cop. There, he plays the straight cop, and the dog, Hootch, is the carefree partner. Am I comparing Tom Hanks' character in "Dragnet" to a dog? Gee, I sure hope not.
"Dragnet" is the type of comedy that I classify as a late-night Friday popcorn flick, to be enjoyed with some popcorn and soda and all the lights off. It's the type of movie that comes on TBS at two in the morning and, if you're a night owl like me, is much better at night than during the day. It's a happy comedy that puts a smile on your face. Maybe the fact that I saw it late at night influenced my thoughts on this film, but I've seen it countless times since, during day and night, and I love it.
There's plenty of clichés in this movie, plenty of OTT scenes, and plenty of stupidity. But Aykroyd is so good impersonating Jack Webb, and Hanks is so funny opposite him, "Dragnet" is a sure-fire way to spend a Friday night in -- or any night in, for that matter. And, as Joe Friday might say, those're the facts.