Exploiting the Archives: This Looks Terrible/Squeakquels! Police Academy: Mission to Moscow
Here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, we’re all about timeliness and chasing the zeitgeist in feverish search of those sweet, sweet clicks. So when we learned about a prescient motion picture that explored both police misconduct and our nation’s troubled and fraught relationship with Russia, I knew that I’d have to write about it.
Who was behind this timely bullet of truth? Is it Aaron Sorkin? Perhaps Spike Lee? Is this the new Steven Soderbergh or Michael Winterbottom docudrama I’m discussing? Nope, the motion picture in question is actually part of an iconic American film series of a decidedly irreverent nature. I’m discussing, of course, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, the seventh and, to date, final motion picture in the saga of lovably inept instruments of law and order, who have a long history of brutalizing audience's funny bones through excessive tickling.
The motion picture was one of the first major American comedies made in post-Glasnost Russia. If it hadn’t united our two cultures through laughter it’s doubtful Russia would have ever conspired to illegally rig the Presidential election in Trump’s favor, and then where would we all be? Living in a nightmare dystopia where “Slick Willie” Clinton is just a heartbeat away from the Presidency, that's where.
The famously troubled making of Police Academy: Mission to Moscow was interrupted by an unsuccessful military coup and Michael Winslow was apparently so convincing making bleep bloop bloop robot sounds during a scene where he does bike tricks that because the frequency his microphone was using was also employed by the military they reportedly descended on the production to investigate.
Yes, Michael Winslow’s mastery of sound effects very nearly caused an international incident. That is one million times more interesting than anything in the movie itself, which is, in true sixth sequel form, a fuzzy Xerox of something that wasn’t very good in the first place. I suspect a documentary about the making of Police Academy: Mission to Moscow would be more entertaining than the film itself. Then again, really staring at an ingrown toe nail for eighty minutes would also be more entertaining than Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.
Police Academy, like the similarly influential, similarly worthless Porky’s, managed to make a fuck-ton of money and inspire an army of bad imitators despite being pretty bad. So a bad Police Academy knock-off, like Rando! entry Moving Violations, really isn’t that much worse than what it’s ripping off, especially since it shares the same writers. An Airplane or Animal House or Blazing Saddles knock-off is liable to be on a lower evolutionary level than the pop classic it’s ripping off but movies like Police Academy set the bar awfully low.
Certainly by 1994 and the sixth sequel, the Police Academy franchise had reached an embarrassing nadir. When Steve Guttenberg, who you might remember from such films as Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous and Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, as well as the recent Lavalantula and its sequel, 2 Lava, 2 Lantula peaces out, dismissing these films as sub-Guttenberg, and then his replacement, Matt McCoy (who has aged into a very funny character actor, most notably as the troubled lawyer in Silicone Valley) also leaves the equation, it’s time to call it quits.
But Police Academy: Mission to Moscow decided that the blandly handsome Charlie Schlatter would replace Guttenberg and then McCoy just as effectively and conclusively as he did Matthew Broderick as the star of the universally beloved Ferris Bueller TV show as the new leading man in the sixth sequel and first to be filmed in the former Soviet Union.
Guttenberg wasn’t the only series veteran MIA. By this point Bobcat Goldthwait was also long gone and Bubba Smith was reportedly so upset that the sequel didn’t try to bring back his friend Marion Ramsey that he left the project in protest. This meant that first billing fell to George Gaynes, easily the best actor in the series but no one’s idea of a Matt McCoy-level boffo box-office attraction, despite what the gaudy grosses of Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street might suggest.
Ah, but Bobcat, the Gute, Bubba and even Tim Kazurinsky were gone, so it fell about George Gaynes, or “G.G Actin’”, as I like to think he calls himself, to serve as the first name on the old call sheet. Gaynes, of Tootsie and Punky Brewster fame, had a bit of a Leslie Nielsen shtick going on in the Police Academy movies. As played with relish by the twinkly, eyed, white-haired grandfather type, he was the ultimate high-status, low-intelligence buffoon, a deadpan clown who was perpetually blundering his way through miscommunications with a big idiot grin of sublime self-satisfaction.
It’s an agreeable if one-note character made bearable by Gaynes’ WASP charm but Mission to Moscow makes the curious choice to separate Gaynes’ Commandant Eric Lassard, the best part of the film, from the rest of the action by having him go off on a side-adventure with a Russian family.
Police Academy never had much in the way of inspiration, but by entry number seven what little it possessed had ran out. The franchise-killer finds the less discriminating veterans of the series (Michael Winslow, the aforementioned Gaynes, sexy lady Leslie Easterbook, Dirty Harry wanna David Graf and weaselly, villainous G.W Bailey) traveling to Moscow to help a Russian police department bring in a notorious Russian crime boss Konstantin Konali, who is played by a scenery-chewing, snake-stroking Ron Perlman.
When I interviewed Uwe Boll for my upcoming book on Postal he said he was hurt because he offered the “Uncle Dave” part to his friend Perlman, who had just appeared in In the Name of the King, and he turned it down and said he found the script offensive. If I were Boll, I would be all, “Yeah, but you were in Police Academy: Mission to Moscow” and then he’d be all, “Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right. I’ll do it.”
I don’t want to poke holes in a scaled-down, nearly direct-to-video later Police Academy sequel, but the film’s premise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Perlman’s mobster is supposed to be the most feared Godfather in Moscow but also the creator of a game called “The Game” that a newscast informs us is “the first time a game has appealed to both a "youthful, as well as more sophisticated market.” Sounds like someone’s never heard of Bonk’s Adventure!
So, anywho, The notorious mobster has also created the most popular video game of all time, called, appropriately enough, The Game (boy, they really pushed the outer limits of creativity conceptualizing this film) that has made a billion and a half dollars and also is available in floppy disk form, but he wants to use a sequel to insert a "pass-key" that will grant him access to the world's secret files and hidden secrets.
If this mobster is so rich off mob stuff, why does he need to be a video game guru? And if he’s such a hot shit video game guru, why’s he wasting his time with mob shit? It’s like Lou Pearlman. If you’re really such a hot shit bogus blimp magnate/Ponzi scheme maestro, why waste your time creating boy bands? And if you’re a big-time boy band creator, then what’s up with the fictitious blimp company and Ponzi scheme?
What I’m saying, dead boy band Svengali Lou Pearlman and also fictional bad guy played by a slumming and regretful Perlman (who would later quip that he had performed a “public service” in helping kill the Police Academy series) is that you should stick with one business, legal or otherwise, instead of messing around with a few.
The movie sends Schlatter’s hot shot but low-wattage new recruit along with a bunch of veterans to the former Soviet Union for the kind of low-energy cultural clash hijinks that give lazily phoning it in a bad name. The movie is filled with wacky sound effects both of the “Michael Winslow making magic happen with his mouth” nature and the much less welcome “zany sonic stings" variety
Police Academy: Mission to Moscow assumes there’s no comic tableau so sublime it cannot be improved through the artful addition of a sassy sound effect. This invites the question: if a character plucks a hair from a head, is it funnier if accompanied by a deafening “Yoink!” cartoon sound effect? I’m not sure I can answer that affirmatively..
I never thought I would write this, dear reader, but the comedy in Police Academy: Mission to Moscow is not good. The movie doesn’t do a whole lot with its Russian setting, in addition to robbing us of the likelihood that an American-set Police Academy 7 would feature at least one cadet who’s also a grunge rocker.
I wanted Police Academy: Mission to Moscow to make me laugh. But I also wanted it to make me think. Additionally, I wanted it to teach me about police brutality and the complicated history of U.S-Russian relations. Also, I wanted it to conclusively determine whether Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Some Lives Matter or No Lives Matter but this cowardly film flees God’s own United States for Godless Mother Russia so it can avoid the hornet’s nest that is race relations.
And the movie takes place twenty three years ago to avoid having to comment upon the present. Sad. Shame.
Police Academy: Mission to Moscow should be hilarious, insightful, edifying, achingly prescient and ripped from tomorrow’s headlines. It’s none of those things. Police Academy: Mission to Moscow didn’t kill the Police Academy series so much as it put it out of its misery.
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