The joke that makes The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear great is relatively subtle. In fact, as a child, watching this movie over and over again, it went over my head. Only recently, after releasing the episode of Revisited dedicated to the original Naked Gun and discussing the sequels with a friend, did he clue me in on why the sequel is so funny. The whole point of the movie is that the bad guys, a conglomerate of nuclear, coal and oil industry baddies, want to prevent Richard Griffith’s Dr Meinheimer from presenting a speech to the president urging a change to the country’s oil policy. Meinheimer is kidnapped and replaced by a double to stop this speech from happening. Our hero, Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin, has to save Meinheimer so he can present his speech, which he eventually does. But, the best joke is the fact that when Meinheimer gives his speech, it’s so dull that everyone listening to it, including the present, falls asleep and never hears it, making the whole plot totally meaningless.
And that, my friends, is why The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear is a gem. Granted, nothing comes close to the original, but it’s well worth a revisit and holds up pretty well. The first movie was one of the biggest box office hits in 1988, making a follow-up a no-brainer. While Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker passed on making Airplane 2, they had no such qualms about bringing back Drebin for another instalment. However, Jerry Zucker’s involvement would be limited, as he had become one of the hottest non-comedy directors in town by then. The previous year’s Ghost was a blockbuster (and seems like it might get remade soon), so he was only on board as an executive producer. The same goes for Jim Abrahams, who did two milder comedies, Big Business and Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael, before making another comedy blockbuster for the summer of 1991, Hot Shots, which came out just a month after this. Both were hits.
David Zucker directed this, with Pat Proft, who had co-written the first film, helping him with the screenplay. While more scattershot than the first film, it’s still quite funny, even if it is arguably more dated than the first film in its reliance on George Bush humour, with John Roarke nailing the impression.
At the time, the energy debate was in full swing, with words like the “ozone layer” making their way into the headlines, while ecological disasters, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, wound up being satirized in the film. The whole cast returned, with OJ Simpson’s Nordberg getting an expanded role after his comic performance won raves in the first film. Again, Nielsen is in top form, playing a role that always fits him perfectly. Around this time, Nielsen was fully embracing his new comedy stardom, showing up on talk shows in full Drebin mode, with his handy fart box never too far from his reach. Nielsen was so in love with the role that, in some ways, he played a part in all of his personal appearances until the day he died. Indeed, they even played Ira Newborn’s theme from The Naked Gun at his funeral as he was laid to rest. It’s beautiful because I don’t know any actor who has ever had more fun in a role than Nielsen in these movies.
This one sees Drebin in Washington receiving a prestigious award from the president for “most drug dealers killed” (clip – when he says he accidentally backed over the last two, but they turned out to be drug dealers anyway). Inexplicable, his entire Police Squad unit is with him, and when someone tries to blow up a renewable energy depot, Drebin and the gang are called in to investigate. Of course, Priscilla Presley’s Jane, who left Frank sometime after the first film, now lives and works there and is dating a smoothie named Quentin Hapsburg, played by the famed Robert Goulet – whom Frank is convinced is behind the whole scheme. Of course, Frank – despite his stupidity – is right.
As in other movies, the thin plot is just an excuse for hijinx, most of which are funny, including a great sequence set at the Blue Note Jazz Bar for the depressed. Priscilla Presley is again the perfect foil for Nielsen, looking dynamite as a redhead, and their chemistry is spot on. Both George Kennedy and OJ Simpson get more to do in this one, as they get in on the action with Drebin as he tries to foil the evil big energy syndicate.
The funniest bits in the movie include a lengthy homage to the pottery scene in Ghost, which was made by one of the directors of the first film – Jerry. It features what will become a running gag in the series, where anytime Drebin’s body is shown in closeup, it is that of a hulking, Schwarzenegger-style bodybuilder, a reference to a then ongoing scandal where Hollywood actors were using body doubles. It climaxes – pun intended – with the greatest ever montage on phallic sequences ever put to film. I also love the faux ads for oil, coal, and nuclear power (the two-tailed dog always made me crack up). While he’s no Riccardo Montalban (who is), Robert Goulet seems to enjoy sending up his image as the movie’s villain – making perhaps the first time a bad guy was ever named after infamously inbred Austrian royalty. Richard Griffiths is also funny in this, with his dual role as Dr Meinheimer and his double, Earl Hacker, a Texan. Once again, Weird Al Yankovic turns up in a cameo (say your prayers) while
The movie was a smash hit at the box office, outgrossing the first film and notably knocking Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves from the top spot at the box office. It was the tenth biggest hit of the year and helped cement Nielsen’s fame as the world’s funniest senior citizen.