Run For Cover!
The Police Academy franchise may not rank among the funniest or smartest comedies of the 1980s, but it certainly was the most popular. The third installment of this screwball series more than makes up for its lackluster predecessor by returning to familiar territory charted by the original. It's back to basics for Mahoney and the usual gang of misfits, but there are plenty of fresh faces to help inject new blood into this waning saga.
Facts of the Case
When the Governor announces the city can no longer financially support two police academies, opposing Commandants Lassard (George Gaynes) and Mauser (Art Metrano) each vie for the approval of the Governor's evaluation committee. Bumbling graduates Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), Jones (Michael Winslow), Fackler (Bruce Mahler), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), and Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook) return, this time as instructors, to help ensure Lassard's academy will remain open.
However, things are never that easy in a Police Academy film. Mauser and his sidekick Proctor (Lance Kinsey) are up to their old tricks, looking to cheat and bootlick their way into the committee's good graces. A couple of Mauser's dimwitted cronies infiltrate Lassard's academy, where they force rival recruits into the field before their training is complete.
I've always maintained that Police Academy 3: Back in Training is the best sequel in the series, rectifying many of Police Academy 2's missteps. First of all, we're finally back at the academy, and busty instructor Callahan returns after sitting the last film out. While the humor here is even less bawdy than the second film, character-based comedy makes a much-needed comeback. A good sequel should allow you to spend more time with the characters you enjoyed in the original, and that's exactly what this film does.
The brand new cadets don't get as much screen time as the returning graduates, but since nobody ever picked Mrs. Fackler as their favorite Police Academy character, it's excusable. Asian exchange student Nogata (Brian Tochi, Revenge of the Nerds) is the only new cadet to make an impact on the series, after falling in love with Callahan. Tackleberry's brother-in-law, Bud Kirkland (Andrew Paris), stuck around for the next film as well, although he's a relatively forgettable character. The rest of the academy's enrollees from this film were never seen again, including cadets Hedges (David Huband), Adams (Shawn Weatherly), and the aforementioned Mrs. Fackler (Debralee Scott).
Instead, it's two characters from opposite sides of the law in Police Academy 2 who truly establish themselves as essential characters, when reunited in this installment. After giving up a life of crime that made him the villain in the last film, Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait, Shakes the Clown) has enrolled as a cadet. His odd couple roommate turns out to be the nerdy jewelry storeowner, Mr. Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky, Saturday Night Live), the nervous target of Zed's old gang. With another standout acting job by Bobcat Goldthwait, the reformed Zed almost steals the whole show again, unintentionally badgering Sweetchuck with a loan of shampoo and late night, all-request bongo sessions until his roommate snaps.
The rest of the performances are really nothing to write home about. At least everyone seems to be putting forth a little more effort than they did last time, including the screenwriters. Sure, there are still lots of gags that don't work in Police Academy 3, but the ones that do are memorable. In a nice nod to the original, Georgina Spevlin, the hooker that "assisted" Lassard during his podium speech, makes her return to help the academy. After luring Proctor into stripping naked in her hotel room, she locks him out. He is forced to fend for himself until he stumbles into the never-ending tango contest at the Blue Oyster. Another well-executed gag, although similar to the prank where Mauser's hair is ruined in the second film, features Mahoney tricking the rival Commandant into getting his eyebrows ripped off with duct tape.
This was not only the last Police Academy movie for director Jerry Paris, but his final film ever; he passed away the same year that Police Academy 3 was released. Paris cut his teeth as an actor on The Dick Van Dyke show, but became better known behind the camera, directing episodes of The Munsters, Happy Days, and Mary Tyler Moore. While the two Police Academy sequels he helmed are adequately directed, perhaps his experience directing sitcoms explains why some of the sight gags in these films are revealed with a marked lack of subtlety.
The quality of the transfer and the mono soundtrack on this release are just okay. Occasional graininess and artifacts aren't too intrusive, although some scenes seem a shade blurry. Dialogue is clearly understood. Don't bother holding out for a remastered transfer and Dolby 6.1 surround, folks—this is about the best Police Academy 3 is ever going to look and sound.
Extras are slim, with only a trailer and an eight-minute featurette on the making of the film. Aside from interviews with cast members and producer Paul Maslansky, this documentary has some actual behind-the-scenes footage of stunts, as discussed by the stunt coordinators. It's not that informative, but frankly, it's much better than the similar featurette included with the second film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It may be a comfortable formula that Police Academy 3 returns to, but it's still a formula. The cadets make some mistakes, Jones makes funny noises with his mouth, Tackleberry tells somebody to do something "now, Mister!" and there's an action sequence that ends when Hooks yells "Don't move, dirtbag!" Cue end credits. It's all starting to get a bit repetitive, although maybe not as tiresome as it became in the remaining four sequels.
For some forgotten reason, screwball comedies in the 1980s liked to have a scene near the end where all the beloved oddball characters show their solidarity by singing a cringe-worthy rock song. I really hate that scene in Revenge of the Nerds II, and I really hate it when the cadets do it here. It's embarrassing to watch, and dates the film terribly.
Everybody likes to dump on the "I can't believe they made seven of those things" Police Academy films, perhaps because they are such an easy target. I have no interest in defending the series from its critics, but as I said in my Police Academy 2 review, you could really do a lot worse than these relatively innocuous lowbrow comedies. This chapter is a necessity for the Police Academy fanatic, and makes a good choice for those who want to pick up only one of the sequels.
This release is still guilty, but the court orders a significantly reduced sentence in light of the slanderous and false charges constantly brought against it. Furthermore, the rest of the series is warned that the court won't be so lenient with their cases.
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