In recent years the word ‘franchise’ has gained a new meaning as a Hollywood byword for decreasing quality – Saw, Transformers and the Final Destination all being examples, where a successful first film has led to a unnecessary amount of follow-up’s, often of decreasing quality, though not always Box Office.
But it isn’t something new, in 1984 Action-Comedy Police Academy opened to mixed reviews from critics, but big success at the Box Office, it was soon followed by Six sequel’s(which progressively got worse-no mean feat considering the first film was only passable), and two television series. Nearly 18 years on from the last instalment (Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow), it remains a perfect example of ‘franchise’ at its very worse.
Police Academy 3 Back in Training is a tired, largely pointless entry in the long running series, extremely short on good jokes, memorable dialogue, or entertainment of any kind; it does end up being funny… but for all the wrong reasons. The plot is as follows: When funding is cut for The Police Department, the Governor announces that one of the two local Police Academies will have to close. But he has an inventive solution-the two academies will have to compete- Commander Eric Lassard’s against Commandant Mauser’s, to win the right to stay open. Several prominent characters from the first two films return as instructors, whilst a group of new characters arrive at the academy, ready to take it in turns to trip over, get punched in the face, and generally be as annoying as possible.
It’s a simple, predictable plot, and largely plays like an uninspired re-tread of the original. The original film, though by no means a masterpiece was actually surprisingly enjoyable, this entry comes off far worse in comparison.
The biggest issue with the film is the script. A confusing opening establishes several new main characters: Carl Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky)-‘nerdy’ with glasses, Zed Mclunk (Bobcat Goldthwait) a reformed ex criminal and a bit of a psycho and Cadet Fackler (Debralee Scott) wife of Sgt Douglas Fackler (Bruce Mahler) (These last two had previously appeared in the franchise) being examples. They aren’t really character’s, just generic ‘types’ and essentially weak caricatures of the first’s films protagonist’s.
Few of the new characters have any relevance to the plot, most are annoying, and all are left with clichéd dialogue, and predictable jokes, only Zed stays in the memory, his strange appearance and voice responsible for many of the film’s few laughs.
The few returning characters- Sgt Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Sgt Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith) and Sgt Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow) most notably, largely have the same problem. Quickly slipping back into the routines of the earlier films (bringing old jokes with them) they compete with the new characters for relevance in the plot, many of them are better actors (well better at generating laughs from the dreadful material at least) but they are often side lined in favour of their annoying replacements. There are simply too many characters, and not enough space in the film, its hard remembering who’s who, and even harder to care.
Whilst the film is overloaded with characters, it is extremely short on laughs. Almost all the jokes are about police incompetency, sex, and people getting punched/ falling into/ out of vehicles, it’s what you’d expect, but few are funny, most are cringe worthy, clichéd and predictable a mile off. The scriptwriters seemingly prefer to recycle ‘jokes’ rather than write new ones, such repetitiveness quickly gets annoying, there are only so many times you can watch someone get punched in the face. Even Michael Winslow’s comedic sound effects (normally the only thing people remember from the franchise- he had the misfortune to appear in all 7 films) don’t really work, funny to an extent, but far too prevalent and predictable.
The few genuinely funny jokes provide a limited amount of brainless humour, but they are widely scattered about, further hampered by the excessively large cast, who deliver them with varying degrees of success.
The terrible jokes are matched by the dialogue, which ranges from uninspired to awful, the poor attempts at connecting the character’s, and the horrendous amount of cliché’s in the film often prove more amusing than the intentional ‘jokes’.
Plot Holes and Random acts of convenience figure strongly in the film-Zeb is involved in a seemingly pointless kidnap by a gang, only to re appear unharmed at the end, whilst character’s disappear and reappear with alarming frequency, seemingly unbound by normal conventions of travel. Uninspired references to Psycho and Dirty Harry make unwelcome appearances, the point of an homage or riff to existing material is to use it positively. In this film such references are so badly utilised they only end up being insulting. Watch assured this is a film where logic is in short supply.
The large cast is just as varied, some give passable performances- David Graf and George Gaynes as Commandant Lassard are both good at generating laugh’s when the script allows, but most come across as bored, or plain awful- some actors even make the mistake of playing the film straight…It’s a comedy! (Apparently)
It’s an ensemble piece, so varied performances are perhaps to be expected, but even so, no one really rises above the tide of mediocrity (though, admittedly it’s hard to tell whether appearing in this film could classify you as an actor or a cause for pity). The performances aren’t really helped by the uninspired direction, the story is often boring or ineffective, the way it is shot even more so, there are few visually memorable moments in the film, the humour is cheap, but so is the film’s look.
The film makes extensive use of a bright, actually quite pleasant score, but even this gets annoying, overuse, and some very random appearances in the film turning it into another one of the series’ bad jokes.
Towards the close of the film, the police- recruits and trained cops alike are forced into action when The Governor is kidnapped. It is here the film is at its most entertaining, in an enjoyable, action packed but overlong Jet Ski race, which almost feels like it’s from a bond film (The race is actually quite reminiscent of the one featured in 1973’s Live and Let Die), and makes a pleasant break from the repetitive scenery, and lame humour featured in the rest of the film. It’s also one of the few times in the film the director actually seems interested, some kinetic camerawork and fast editing benefit the film, but by this stage of the story, it’s much too little far too late.
Whilst the scenery and characters have differed from the earlier films, the dated reference’s and jokes about race; feminism and sex all make appearances. Many of these jokes are less relevant, or shocking viewed from a modern perspective, even so the Non-PC humour in the film may prove an annoyance to some viewer’s.
It runs less than an hour and a half but still feels overlong: the simple plot could be covered in less than half that time, whilst the funny jokes could all be used within the first few minutes, bad pacing and irrelevant side plot are further used to pad the film.
Police Academy 3: Back in Training is an appalling ‘comedy’ with next to no redeeming features. Terrible dialogue, jokes and direction are balanced only by a few enthusiastic performances and the ending Jet Ski race, the very, very few good jokes are so few and far between its unlikely that the viewer will still be watching when one appears.
On the other hand, some view this as one of the better entries in the series…