|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 27 October 1998|
Otherwise, 'Dragnet' is a harmless but uninvolving spoof that never really finds its footing. Directed by Tom Mankiewicz from a script by Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel and Mankiewicz, the movie chronicles the contemporary adventures of Aykroyd's Friday--who is introduced as the nephew of the original Joe Friday--and his new partner Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks) as they attempt to get to the bottom of a crime wave perpetrated by the mysterious People Against Goodness And Normalcy (or "PAGAN" for short).
There are a few amusing gags in the film--one of the best comes in Chapter 8, where Friday and Streebek physically demonstrate for their exasperated boss (Harry Morgan, reprising his original role as Bill Gannon, here promoted to police captain) what they've had to do undercover.
However, 'Dragnet' seems to be trying for the tone of 'Airplane!' while simultaneously letting Hanks' semi-hip Streebek react with disbelief to the weirdness around him. 'Airplane!' sustains its air of sublime lunacy in large part because none of the characters notice that they're in a cartoon environment. Trying to put a sort-of real character into this gonzo universe points up the shortcomings in each--Hanks is nothing if not game and likable, but Streebek remains a smartmouthed sketch. The character points up the artificiality of his surroundings while at the same time reminding us that what's going on isn't really funny enough to withstand this kind of scrutiny.
Despite the skill of cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti, 'Dragnet' isn't particularly exciting to look at or listen to either; it has the slightly flat visual style of any number of '80s mid-budget pictures made by competent people doing their jobs without much inspiration. 'Dragnet' isn't awful or mean-spirited--it bops along pleasantly enough, with a bit of nice human scenery in the form of Alexandra Paul (in her pre-"Baywatch" days). It's an innocuous time-killer, but the jokes don't stay with you once it's over.