Sergeant Joe Friday, nephew of a legendary by-the-book Los Angeles cop, is partnered with Pep Streebek, a rule-breaking loose cannon. Their first case brings them up against a malign anarchist cult.
A stab at a comedic/parodic remake of a classic television show, a full decade before the ironic revivals like The Brady Bunch Movie and Starsky & Hutch, this highlights Dan Aykroyd’s spot-on impersonation of deadpan Jack Webb in the role of the supposed nephew of Webb’s clipped Joe Friday, hero of the seminal 1951-59 police procedural Dragnet (famous for its dum-dah-DUM-dah theme) and a slightly less seminal hippie-busting 1967 revival.
Tom Hanks, before he grew serious acting muscles, plays fast and loose as the easygoing ‘80s policeman whose modern attitudes (including a willingness to torture a suspect) contrast with the uptight, hat-wearing conservatism of Friday (he also gets to do a lot of schtick – impersonating Freddy Krueger and the like). Harry Morgan, a sputtering veteran of the original series, is promoted to a desk job, barking orders to the mismatched cops, and Alexandra Paul is an unusually funny heroine, a ‘Republican virgin from Orange County’ who is even more stranded out of time than Friday.
The most fun supporting turn comes from a game Christopher Plummer as a giggling ‘moral majority’ televangelist who dons goat-leg britches to officiate at the ceremonies of the wonderfully-named PAGAN (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) cult (their catchy chant is ‘Kill the good! Kill the good!’). Aykroyd’s script has more than its share of clever, witty ideas, but the film still feels the need to descend way too often to Police Academy-style heroes-dress-up-like-idiots sequences (Aykroyd and Hanks get into ‘80s punk gear to infiltrate a concert). Despite this lampoon, Dragnet returned seriously to television in 1989 and again in 2003.
Fun spoof but it's been surpassed in the TV-series film spoof since then.