1987 in Film – Dragnet

Release Date: June 26th
Box Office: $57,387,000

When remaking an older franchise for a modern audience history tells us that there are two ways to do it:

  • Stay true to the intent of the original piece however update some parts of it in order to make it relevant for a modern audience, one example being how Scarface (1933) became Scarface (1983), or
  • You turn the thing into a parody, highlighting how daft the original material now is with the benefit of hindsight, something like The Brady Bunch Movie (1996)

Or like with Dragnet (1987).

The original Dragnet series ran through the 50s and was an early example of a police procedural TV show. Jack Webb was the creative force and star of the show, using contacts in the LAPD to make the show as real as possible. So real that the character he played, Joe Friday, had his own LAPD police badge that they retired when he died.

This movie version of Dragnet does not stick as close to realism.

Dan Aykroyd is Joe Friday, albeit nephew to the original character with Tom Hanks as his new partner Pep Streebeck. Of course, this being the early stage Hanks he’s barely a hop skip and a jump away from Steve Guttenberg. His role here is essentially Mahoney from the Police Academy series: an anti auditory party animal who some how has made it as a police officer. Naturally, pairing him with the by-the-book Friday personified by Aykroyd is full of comedy potential.

And it is, despite the by the numbers script. The two leads have enough chemistry and comic timing to make the film enjoyable. It is, however, a prime example of two men making chicken salad out of chicken shit.

The fact that it’s by renowned script doctor Tom Mankiewicz makes this just that little bit weirder. Maybe it was having to be the director and the writer that threw things off. It’s not like Mankiewicz wasn’t good at his job, far from it. His work across the James Bond and Superman franchise is near legendary. But here? It ends up being run of the mill.

The plot is daft 80s nonsense about a series of thefts linked to a cult called P.A.G.A.N that Friday and Streebeck investigate that has them dressing up like punks (because it’s the 80s, right?) and being shouted at by their boss and all sorts.

It’s not exactly top of the tree Aykroyd who, as a leading man, was on a downward trend. Hanks, meanwhile, was going the other way and would soon break out into serious acting. It sits at a crossover point in the two men’s careers; after this Aykroyd would be the perennial supporting actor whilst Hanks would get an Oscar nomination with Big (1988) that would be the first step on his transformation to a multi Oscar winning major actor.

But right here, in Dragnet, things are different. It’s a daft film with a rap song over the end credits wherein Aykroyd dead pans everything and Hanks tries to sleep with everyone. It’s a relic, an enjoyable one, but one that should really stay in the 80s.

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