Dragnet [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (18th November 2018).
The Film

In this profane eighties feature film spin-off of the radio show turned film turned three-time television series Dragnet, Sergeant Joe Friday (The Blues Brothers' Dan Ackroyd) is the nephew of Jack Webb's "just the facts ma'am" copper. In the eighties, however, the no-nonsense junior Friday is such an anachronism that even the elder Friday's partner-turned-police captain Gannon (M*A*S*H's Harry Morgan) thinks he is too rigid when Friday begrudges his former partner his decision to quit the force and buy that goat farm that was his life's dream. Friday's new partner Pep Streebek (Big's Tom Hanks) is not about to shake up his routine if Friday has any say, but the elder man proves out of his element when the pair are assigned to investigate the crime spree of a party identifying themselves as P.A.G.A.N. who have thus far stolen two tankers full of hazardous chemicals, several police and fire vehicles, and a Madagascan fruit tree bat, a lion's mane, and a thirty-foot boa constrictor from the zoo. The latest theft consisted of the entire stock of the twenty-fifth anniversary double issue of BAIT magazine from the warehouse of soft porn king Jerry Caesar (WarGames's Dabney Coleman) after he refused to publish P.A.G.A.N.'s manifesto (in spite of its belief that "bad sex and good drugs are the cornerstone of a great democracy"). The clues are few, but a response to a more innocuous theft of a wedding dress from Enid Borden (Support Your Local Gunfighter's Kathleen Freeman) by one of her borders who stiffed her for the rent and left behind a stack of P.A.G.A.N. calling cards leads them to Caesar's own chauffeur Emil Muzz (Superman's Jack O'Halloran). While Friday generally disapproves of Streebek's flippant attitude towards procedure, he comes to admire his interrogation skills (so long as he can claim plausible deniability) when intimidates Muzz into revealing the meeting place of P.A.G.A.N. Going undercover, they happen upon a very special rally in which a goat-masked high priest plans to sacrifice "the virgin Connie Swail" (Christine's Alexandra Paul) to the stolen boa. In the fracas that ensues after Friday and Streebek rescue the virgin, Connie gets a look at the high priest's face but her testimony proves useless when Gannon and police commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick (Evening Shade's Elizabeth Ashley) visit the scene and find no evidence of the ritual and dismiss their fantastic story as the effect of the narcotics the pair supposedly confiscated as evidence at the scene. An embarrassed Gannon takes the pair off the case but subsequent attempts on their lives cause Friday's protectiveness of Connie to grow into a romantic interest. When Friday, Connie, Friday's Granny Mundy (Lifeguard's Lenka Peterson), and Streebek go out to the Brown Derby for his birthday, Connie recognizes the high priest as the televangelist Reverend Jonathan Whirley (The Sound of Music's Christopher Plummer) of the Moral Advance Movement of America (or MAMA). Friday's arrest of the man leads to repercussions since he is in the company of Commissioner Kirkpatrick – who have joined to push out the current mayor Parvin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Bruce Gray) on the grounds of his lax attitude towards the city's moral decay – and Gannon asks for Friday's gun and badge. A disillusioned Friday seeks solace with new love Connie. When neither of them return home that evening of the next day, Streebek goes rogue to rescue his partner and foil Whirley's nefarious plans.

Before his death in 1982, Webb had planned to launch a third Dragnet series with Adam-12 star Kent McCord as his partner, but the actual third version would be the short-lived Dick Wolf 2003 series with Married… with Children's Ed O'Neill and Can't Hardly Wait's Ethan Embry. The script, credited to Ackroyd, screenwriter-turned-director Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die), and Alan Zweibel (It's Garry Shandling's Show), has so little respect for its source that the best that can be said about Dragnet (1987) is that it's not the CHIPS movie. Ackroyd's Joe Friday impression falls short of dead on, but his character so much the butt of the film's jokes – Webb's monologues could provoke audience mockery but his rigidity was sincere – as to make Hanks' wisecracks unnecessary; indeed, the film feels like a vehicle for two separate actors than a duo. The satire falls flat with a seemingly embarrassed Plummer underplaying in reaction to Ashley and Coleman, while one just feels sorry for Morgan. Paul seems to be the only principal performer who comes across well, if only because her character has about as much depth as sixties/seventies episodic TV regular Freeman's crank. Car chases, gunplay, fights, and PG-13 pastied breasts add some diversion, but nothing makes up for the noise that is The Art of Noise title theme or the end title Ackroyd/Hanks rap penned by Ackroyd's brother Peter (who also has a bit part as a phony CHP officer alongside Grace Under Fire's Casey Sander). Since the film exists in the Dragnet universe for better or worse, the film instead show Friday watching the Broderick Crawford series Highway Patrol on television.

Video

Released theatrically and on home video by Universal, the film was dumped onto DVD in 1998 in a barebones anamorphic transfer and otherwise forgotten. Germany's Pandastorm Pictures and the UK's Fabulous Films beat Shout! Factory to the market with Blu-rays, but they were barebones. The Shout Select disc's ad copy does not mention anything about the master, but the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer appears to be more recent, looking nothing like the some of the more the Universal masters for catalog titles that Shout! and other companies have been stuck with before. Fine detail impresses right away from the texture of The Donut Hole and the distinguishability between original footage and stock to the close-ups of the police shield during the opening titles. Colors are vibrant and blacks are deep while grain during the night scenes never becomes noisy or clumpy.

Audio

The sole audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the film's Dolby Stereo soundtrack with clear dialogue and plenty of directional effects in both the action and the scoring. Optional English SDH subtitle are provided, although they transcribe "smut peddler" as "slut peddler."

Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by pop culture historian Russell Dyball who knows his stuff when it comes to the film, pointing out the differences between the finished film and the final draft script – including the removal of an entire subplot involving the previous police commissioner – the toning down of jokes, shout-outs not only to the earlier series but also to its era (like referring to the Los Angeles City Zoo as the Griffith Park Zoo), concerns about how familiar the audience would be with the series' tropes, and minutiae about the radio show and the series, noting the lawsuit between Miklós Rózsa and series composer Walter Schumann whose theme's iconic sequence of four notes was lifted from Rózsa's score for Robert Siodmak's The Killers. While it is an informative track, Dyball's attempts to fill all the space includes such trivial trivia as the diet of a Madagascar fruit tree bat (to answer Friday's question in the film). Also included is "A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail" (25:02), interview with actress Paul, who was unfamiliar with the original series and did not understand the humor of the script when she read it, but that ultimately worked to her advantage given her clueless character. "Just the Facts" (45:59) is a 1987 television documentary to promote the film narrated by Morgan and hosted by Ackroyd and Hanks. The featurette goes beyond promoting the film to look at the history of Webb, the radio show, the two television series, and the actors whose careers it launched, with a nice amount of contextual information that nevertheless hints at Universal's apprehension at younger viewer familiarity with one of their most popular shows of an earlier decade. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer and five TV spots. The cover is reversible and a slipcover is also included, while those who pre-order directly from Shout! Factory would have received a free poster.

Overall

The best that can be said about the 1987 Dragnet feature film spinoff is that it's not the CHIPS movie.

 


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