Saturday 20 July 2013

Letterboxd: THE NAKED GUN 33⅓ - THE FINAL INSULT (1994), THE MASTER (2012) & UNSTOPPABLE (2010)

Saturday 20 July 2013
The last entry in the NAKED GUN trilogy is widely considered the least impressive, and that was certainly my recollection after first watching these films back in the day. But seeing as I found myself revising my opinion of the first sequel (um, downward), I was hoping a re-watch would lead to a more positive reassessment of NAKED GUN 33⅓: THE FINAL INSULT.

The first half-hour of this comedy is pretty damn shaky, and you can tell there's someone new behind the camera in Peter Segal—making his directorial début ahead of NUTTY PROFESSOR II, ANGER MANAGEMENT, and GET SMART. There are far too many flashbacks and dream sequences that stop the narrative dead in its tracks, seemingly to crowbar in jokes that couldn't occur more naturally. Or were constructed for the trailer. Arguably more frustrating is how the story begins with Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) retired from Police Squad and adjusting to domestic life, while going through marital problems with wife Jane (Priscilla Presley). It sounds like a great way to explore other aspects of Frank's persona and his marriage; but it quickly becomes apparent the character only works in the context of being a dogged cop, and the ongoing Frank/Jane romance perhaps should have been abandoned after the first film.

Fortunately, much of NAKED GUN 33⅓ is rescued once Frank gets his badge back and goes undercover at the Statesville Prison as Nick 'The Slasher' McGurk. This change of location and dynamic, with Frank pretending to be a bad-ass criminal to win the respect of bomber Rocco Dillon (Fred Ward), breathes life into the film and inspires a plethora of excellent jokes and sight gags. I'd go so far as to argue it's one of the stronger sequences in any of the NAKED GUN movies, too. Also in THE FINAL INSULT's favour is how it builds to a climax that actually has a sense of occasion with the Academy Awards threatened with destruction, leading to a handful of showbiz spoofs that earn their place. It's certainly a much better ending than the previous film mustered, if not quite as brilliant as the original's L.A baseball game with homicidal players.

THE NAKED GUN 33⅓ remains the weakest of the trilogy, but only because the style of jokes had become a little shop-worn by this point and the plotting felt very disjointed at times. There are still some hilarious moments (with the aforementioned prison sequence containing most of them) and brilliant turns of phrase, although less moments that feel truly inspired. Still, as trilogies go (certainly in the comedy genre), I'm surprised THE NAKED GUN doesn't rank higher in more people's estimations.

I know, I know... I love P.T Anderson's work, but THE MASTER fell very flat for me. There are undeniably excellent performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (naturally), together with some gorgeous cinematography and transfixing music, but the story failed to capture my imagination beyond a couple of stand-out scenes.

I was inordinately relieved when THE MASTER's 137-minute runtime was revealed to include 6-minutes of end credits I didn't have to watch, which isn't a good sign. Maybe I just approached THE MASTER all wrong, because the 'brainwashing cult movie' I assumed I was getting didn't materialise all that strongly.

I've had a soft spot for films built around simple jeopardies since Keanu Reeves took a bus ride in SPEED. Unsurprisingly, the late Tony Scott crafted a decent one with runaway train thriller UNSTOPPABLE.

Denzel Washington recycles his THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 performance from the previous year, STAR TREK's Chris Pine plays newbie sidekick, Rosario Dawson's the boy's reassuring voice over the phone, and there's a "missile the size of the Chrysler Building" to stop before it derails at the Stanton Curve. Cue perfunctory character development amidst choppers swooping alongside rail tracks and Washington playing papa bear, giving you a ringside seat to what's essentially a dramatisation of 2001's real-life CSX 8888 freight incident.

It's nothing special and is chock-full of clichés, but while it's on you do find yourself caught up in UNSTOPPABLE's relentless pace thanks to Scott's fidgety camera work. But when it's all over, you take a deep breath, forget about it, and get on with your day.
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