Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 # 8 Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986)
Welcome to the eighth installment in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0, the column where I give the living saints who make a one-time one hundred dollar pledge to this site’s Patreon page an opportunity to choose a movie that I must see, and then write about.
I like this column for reasons that go above and beyond the fact that it’s single-handedly allowed the site’s overall Patreon haul to increase every month instead of shrinking. It’s as close to that fabled “Killer app” as I’ve discovered in the year or so that I’ve been running the site and it has the wonderful additional bonus of allowing me to work more closely with readers, to collaborate with them instead of being a one-way conduit of information and opinion.
I’m also intrigued by the diversity of the films chosen for this column. I tend to pick out random, crazy-ass shit to write about for Nathan Rabin's Happy Place. You’ve arguably chosen even more random, even crazier-ass shit than me.
This brings us to our latest installment, the little-loved second sequel to Police Academy, the 1984 surprise blockbuster that has become an American institution spanning seven motion pictures, an animated television show, a live-action television show and a proposed reboot/remake from Key & Peele that has been in development hell for years and hopefully, now that Peele is an Oscar-winning auteur and shit, will never see the light of day, without being any goddamn good at all.
The patron assumed, understandably, that I’d be reluctant to subject myself to such a dire-looking project but on the first night of the “Weird Al” Yankovic tour backstage I ran into Tim Kazurinsky, who is, like so many people in Al’s orbit, both something of a genius and something of a professional cartoon character.
A Second City alum trained by Del Close and discovered by John Belushi, Kazurinsky was a cast member of Saturday Night Live, where his characters included the husband in "I Married a Monkey”, a man married to a chimpanzee named Madge. Madge was played by a real chimpanzee. The thing about chimpanzees is that you can only really “train” them up to a point. Then they’re just going to act like apes, whether they’re on live television or not.
He went on to adapt the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago as About Last Night, a Reagan-era film vehicle for Rob Lowe and James Belushi and performed in a stage production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood I saw towards the end of my time in Chicago. He’s a very smart, accomplished man unfortunately doomed to be best remembered as the Poindexter Bobcat Goldthwait screams at in Police Academy 2, Police Academy 3 and Police Academy 4.
How could I possibly resist an opportunity to revisit Kazurinsky’s crowning moment of big-screen glory? Especially when it had such a profound impact on screen acting in general? In many ways, Kazurinsky’s performance here is as revolutionary and sensual as Marlon Brando’s in A Streetcar Named Desire.
In his star-making turn in Police Academy 3: Back in Training, Kazurinsky plays a civilian turned police trainee named Sweetchuck, on account of being one tender, irresistible slab of man-meat women can't wait to get their mouths on.
Rumor has it that when women and men first saw Kazurinsky’s character onscreen in the film's premiere they began desperately pawing at their genitals in a masturbatory frenzy of pure lust. For years afterwards strange rumors persisted of an X-rated cut of the film that featured a sequence of Kazurinsky clad only in a leather g-string and cowboy hat yelling “My name is Sweetchuck and I came here to fuck. So all you horny bitches are in luck! I don’t care if your man is Warren Beatty or Walt Chamberlain, he’s gonna get cucked!” that was edited out for being too erotic, to the point where it drove people to madness.
If I might give Kazurinsky the very faintest of faint praise, his yin-and-yang dynamic with Bobcat Goldthwait is far and away the best thing about the film, with the possible exception of its sweet, sweet 80 minute runtime and fleet pacing.
Goldthwait may have been whoring himself out by appearing in terrible movies only for the money but even in his most debased form, Goldthwait is still an original. His scenes with Kazurinsky have an appealingly classic feel: they could be shot in black and white and silent and not lose a goddamn thing or feel out of place.
Police Academy III is dumb. It’s terrible. It’s barely trying. But it gets in, it gets out and it ends pretty damn swiftly so I at least have to give it credit for not wasting too much of my time.
The film’s subtitle broadcasts its laziness and ferocious lack of ambition or vision. It’s like 1998’s Major League: Back to the Minors in that respect. Audience expectations for a late-in-the-game second sequel to Major League with almost none of the original cast returning are modest enough. You don’t need to really drive home that the stakes are somehow way lower for this one.
Back in Training sends the same message. It’s not exactly a name that inspires excitement or confident. The movie might as well be named Police Academy: Barely Trying, since that’s the vibe.
It’s essentially saying that its characters fucked up so they’re doing it all over again, with even lower stakes than last time. Back in Training's premise is as clean and uncluttered as it is uninspired. There’s a budget crunch so one of the two police academies in the state will be shut down.
To determine which police academy survives, the two battling training schools, one overseen by George Gaynes’ genially moronic Commandant Lassard and the other ineptly ruled by the evil, scheming Commandant Mauser (Art Metrano) compete before an evaluating committee.
To get the competitive edge, Lassard brings back plenty of ringers from earlier films to help train new recruits for the big competition, including Sgt. Carey Mahoney, a glib, wisecracking lady’s man played by Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith’s towering Moses Hightower and Eugene Tackleberry (David Graff), the franchise’s Rambo figure.
I was surprised that Guttenberg returned not just for this stinkeroo but for its sequel as well, because he was a pretty big movie star by 1986. The next year he’d star in Three Men and a Baby, the top-grossing film of the year, in addition to Police Academy 4, and the year before he starred in the critical and commercial hit Cocoon, where his costars were people like Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, not the guy who makes all the crazy noises with his mouth.
Then again, being part of a sprawling ensemble works for Guttenberg, if not for the film. As in previous entries, Guttenberg delivers an even more lightweight variation on the handsome, glib, perpetually sarcastic smart ass slob anti-hero Chevy Chase made a fortune playing.
Police Academy 3: Back in Training gives Guttenberg the opportunity to once again play the ostensible lead without actually requiring him to do anything. There’s a moment in a lot of classic Bill Murray movies, the kind that this badly rips off, where the Saturday Night Live icon delivers an ironic inspirational speech that simultaneously comments on the hokey, pandering nature of motivational addresses and doubles as a weirdly convincing manifesto in its own right. Police Academy 3: Back in Training gives Guttenberg’s coasting lead a speech or two like that but not only so these rants lack the subversive underlying genius of Murray’s work in Meatballs and Stripes, they’re more or less completely lacking in jokes.
Guttenberg smirks and grins like he’s perpetually laughing internally at the hilarious shit that’s coming out of his mouth but there’s nothing to his character. He seems to have appeared in the movie pretty much because his role is so perversely undemanding that starring in the movie is only marginally more labor-intensive than skipping it altogether.
Police Academy 3: Back in Training tries to diversify its cast through racism with the addition of Cadet Tomoko Nogata (Brian Tochi), a Japanese gentleman who is originally a cadet at Mauser’s academy, but after Mauser refers to Nogata as, alternately, “Fu Manchu”, “Stir Fried Foreign Shrimp From Out of Town”, a sushi chef and a man whose only apparent value to law enforcement lies in his ability to show fellow cadets how to use a wok, he decides to send him to Lassard’s academy as a means of sabotage that backfires.
Cadet Tomoko Nogata initially appears to be nothing more than a lazy collection of hacky Asian stereotypes but it turns out that he’s actually really good at martial arts! He’s so good at martial arts, in fact, that Lt. Debbie Callahan (Leslie Easterbook) the academy’s ruling busty, ice-queen sexpot shoots him a look that says, “Even though you seem to be a cartoonish nerd who sleeps on a bed of nails you’re actually good at martial arts, so I want to fuck you.”
That’s a very specific look but it’s one that Easterbrook pulls off. You really think she wants to fuck the guy because he’s so good at doing martial arts.
Now, I could tell you that I chose to watch this movie because of my run-in with Kazurinsky or because it’s only eighty minutes or because I saw the final entry in the series for this website not too long ago.
But the truth is that deep into the film Cadet Nogata finally musters up the courage to pursue the big-breasted blonde American woman of his dreams with the torturously worded come-on “Only kiss of beautiful woman can compare to petal of a rose” and, after burying his head deep into her enormous breasts yells, “I love America.”
It was then, and only then, that I thought, “Oh, I’ve DEFINITELY seen this movie.” Funny the things that stick out when you’re a ten year old boy. Then again, my brain might have remembered this as the movie where the cartoonish Japanese guy sticks his grinning head into a giant-ass pair of breasts and yells “I love America!” rather than Police Academy 3: Back in Training.
It’s entirely possible that my dumb brain decided to spend eighty minutes I will never get back specifically because my inner 10 year old, who is not so secretly calling all the shots on this site, just wanted to see that one moment, and was willing to endure the other 79 minutes for its sake.
Police Academy 3: Back in Training was both every bit as stupid and lazy as I had expected and everything that I was kind of hoping it would be. In Tony Hendra’s Going Too Far, his wildly self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing book on baby boomer comedy, the author reserves special hatred for Police Academy, which he accuses of betraying the fundamentally subversive, countercultural nature of the comedy that came before it by glorifying and romanticizing the police, the ultimate tool of authoritarian repression.
There are all sorts of things wrong with the Police Academy movies. They’re brutally unfunny, for starters, but it seems unfair to hold them responsible for turning comedy into a weapon of control for the ruling class. The Police Academy movies do not have any ideas at all, so it’s giving them far too much credit to imagine that anything they did was intentional with the possible exception of filling 80 minutes in the laziest, breeziest, least demanding manner imaginable.
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