Long before the end credits of 22 Jump Street imagined Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum going to culinary school, the flight academy, and into outer space, the Police Academy films bravely tested just how far one already thin premise could already be stretched.
In Police Academy 4, Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) comes up with another plan to make the city safer. (Since Lassard has been coming up with plans for three years without any success, it may be time to let the old man retire peacefully.) This time, he wants to institute Citizens on Patrol, which would mean training citizens to act like cops. It sounds like the type of terrible idea that could get a city sued into bankruptcy but considering that this is a city where a human sound effects machine and the former head of the 16 precinct’s biggest gang can become decorated police officers, I guess it’s as good an idea as any.
As usual, Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg) and the gang are ready to help Lassard. Bruce Mahler’s Fackler is no longer a part of the ensemble but Bubba Smith, Bobcat Goldthwait, Michael Winslow, David Graf, Tim Kazurinsky, Marion Ramsey, and Brian Toschi are all back. Also returning, after skipping out on the first two sequels, is Capt. Harris (G.W. Bailey). Harris wants to see Lassard fail so that he can take over the police academy. It’s the same thing as the first three films. As in previous Police Academy films, there’s a visit to the Blue Oyster leather bar and a last minute crime wave to give the Citizens on Patrol a chance to prove they belong in the program. The Citizens on Patrol include Billie Bird, Brian Backer, David Spade, wrestler Tab Thacker, and Corrine Bohrer as a love interest for Bobcat Goldthwait. Sharon Stone also makes an appearance, playing a journalist and improbably falling for Steve Guttenberg. Watching the film, it is obvious that the idea was that, in future Police Academy films, the Citizens on Patrol could replace any of the regular cast members who wanted too much money to return. As a result, almost every veteran of the cast has a doppelganger in the Citizens on Patrol. Brian Backer could replace Steve Guttenberg. Tab Thacker is there to put Bubba Smith on notice that no one is irreplaceable. Is Bobcat Goldthwait being difficult? Just remind him that David Spade can play a crazy eccentric too.
Police Academy 4 is the most crowded of the Police Academy films and, even by the franchise’s undemanding standards, most of the jokes fall flat. Jim Drake took over as director after the director of the previous two films, Jerry Paris, died of a brain tumor and Drake struggles to balance low comedy with police action. Guttenberg and company don’t have the same energy in this installment as they had in the previous three and the new cast members all feel as if they’re out place sharing scenes with the veterans, like a group of underclassmen who have been invited on the senior trip.
This would be the final Police Academy film for Steve Guttenberg. Would the franchise be able to survive without him? Check here tomorrow to find out with my review of Police Academy 5!