Universal // 1987 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // June 29th, 1999
Just the facts, ma'am.
Glorious fun for comedy lovers in general, but if you ever watched the TV show, you may be in tears (of laughter).
Given his recent breathtaking dramatic performances in Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan, when I sat down with this favorite for the review it was a bit of a shock to remember just how good a comic actor Tom Hanks can be. When you pair him with a true comedy master in the role of a lifetime (Dan Ackroyd), you've got a thoroughly funny movie.
If you have never seen any of the original Jack Webb series, I highly recommend that you do so before seeing this movie. Only then will you truly begin to appreciate the comic genius of Dan Ackroyd's performance as Joe Friday. The look, the voice, the body language are all spot on, to the point where Dan Ackroyd seems to just meld into the Joe Friday persona. Unlike the original series, here the Joe Friday character goes beyond starched drama to deadpan comedy, with the odd-couple partner of Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks) to give the comedic barbs extra bounce.
As the movie opens, we are treated to a dryly humorous introduction to Joe Friday, a groovy funkified Dragnet theme song, and his polar opposite partner, Pep Streebeck. Once Friday establishes who's the boss, the Odd Couple begins to investigate a series of incomprehensible crimes attributed to a group known as the Pagans (their motto: "Bad sex and good drugs are the cornerstones of a free society."). This includes a call to the sprawling estate owned by a Hugh Hefner like porn magnate, Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman), who had a warehouse of his skin magazine (or, as he puts it, a politically oriented, socially impacting monthly!) torched by the Pagans. After some further investigations, our heroes track the Pagans to an outdoor festival of hedonism, where they rescue an innocent young woman, "the virgin Connie Swail," (Alexandra Paul) from certain death.
Our heroes are then thwarted by the prickly police commissoner (Elizabeth Ashley), who is enamored of the Rev. Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer), but who, unbenknownst to her, is secretly the leader of the Pagans. When Joe Friday and Connie Swail are kidnapped by the Pagans, we briefly switch to the point of view and monologue of Pep Streebeck (an inspired touch) as he launches a rescue operation. Rejoined, our heroes foil the evil plans of the Pagans and capture the evil Rev. Whirley in a dramatic battle and chase sequence. After a darkly humorous segment on the Reverend's ultimate fate, we finish with an impeccably timed joke where the punchline is a simple reaction shot. Finally, as the credits roll past, we see them go with a smile, thanks to a Pep Streebeck-Joe Friday rap number.
The story is at times silly, goofy, and larger than life, but all to great comic effect. If this were a more typically modern Hollywood script, the humor would be too broad and obvious, the plot drained of its madcap zing, the subtle social satire would be dropped on the cutting room floor and it would be REALLY boring by comparison. In the final analysis, I find that there's a certain sweetness about this comedy that I feel is sadly lacking in the comedy movies I have seen of late.
I've made my praise of the lead actors plain, so let me also commend the performances of the supporting cast. Christopher Plummer has a ball as the duplicitous Rev. Whirley, Dabney Coleman just oozes slimy charisma as Jerry Caesar, and I just have to smile at Harry Morgan as the put-upon Captain Gannon (a reprise from the original series). Alexandra Paul is so shy and demure that we believe that she is "the virgin Connie Swail."
Thankfully, the video transfer is truly exceptional. Crisp and clear, with fine sharpness and well-saturated colors, this was a pleasure to watch. I was particularly impressed by the opening title sequence and the climactic battle scene at the end, where the huge bonfire is just so colorful. The only flaw is the presence of flecks and bits of dirt in the picture, which is visible just enough to be noticed.
As a comedy movie, the audio is not going to be a strongpoint, particularly when it is only Dolby 2.0, but neither does it detract from the overall movie. I also wish to commend the scoring of Ira Newborn, whose music admirably helps to set the mood and underline the zany comic sequences. No doubt his prior work on such comedies as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, and Police Squad helped!
The assortment of extras is limited. The production notes are reasonably extensive, as are the cast & filmmaker's bios. You also get static menu screens, a less than clean full-frame theatrical trailer (boo hiss!) and web links (which I cannot review). The insert is only slightly more than just a chapter list. The packaging is the usual preferred Amaray keep case.
I only wish that the extras were more extensive. I can only imagine what fun it would be to have a Tom Hanks/Dan Ackroyd commentary track, or a featurette with interviews. Particularly when you are doing such a dead-on parody of a famous and long-running series, it seems a shame not to work more information on the original show into this disc.
"Thank God, it's Friday!" I agree, Pep! Go out and watch this disc, or I'll sic Joe Friday on you.
Not only is the film acquitted, I order the indictment shredded and all records sealed. Universal, not bad, but watch those extras!
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Cast and Filmmakers Bios
* Production Notes
* Film Highlights
* Web Links