The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear

3 out of 5

Directed by: David Zucker

Comedy is hard.  You knew that, right, because no one ever laughs at your jokes?  The comedy that the ZAZ guys effected in their films is especially hard – nigh impossible, really, except that we’ve seen it happen – given that it fills a full feature length runtime with end-to-end gags on various levels, both in terms of a dumb/smart spectrum and in terms of how those gags are presented: as slapstick, as verbal play, as background jokes, and more.

It’s not surprising that that Holy Ground of Humor could only be traveled to less than a handful of times.  The first Naked Gun movie was the only one out of the trilogy truly a ZAZ project, and is thus the best and naturally the most ZAZ-y, but it was also their last movie together, and the gifted inspiration that fueled their previous genius in Airplane! and Top Secret! was already beginning to trail off, with the flick not quite as jam-packed as their previous efforts.

The sequel isn’t bad at all, but it starts to more clearly show – being essentially a David Zucker and Pat Proft flick – where individual strengths may have lain, as the visual gags aren’t as dense (e.g. background and foreground firing at once), the verbal play is a little slow and simplistic, and nothing much feels “clever” anymore, so much as inspired silly.  That being said, while the set up and pay off for the (mostly) slapstick is obvious, it’s also damned well done, with Leslie Nielson and Zucker having fully settled into a visual inadvertent-action-and-react rhythm that makes Frank Drebben endlessly likeable.  It also vaguely works better as a film, sticking, more or less, to a plot that has Robert Goulet plotting the subversion of the president’s green power plans for the sake of commerce (…interestingly timely, or perhaps it’s just that that’s always timely) versus the first film’s muddled something something assassination hoopla.  Because of that, while The Naked Gun ebbed and flowed with its jokes as it headed into its final third, trying to shore up what little story there was, 2 (ahem, 2 1/2)  actually gets smoother as it goes along, its hastily assembled intro bits – when it’s maybe okay to let our attentions wander during a 90 minute commitment – putting us on a self-piloting trajectory so the crew can focus more on the yuks.

Which are had.