Police Academy (1984)

Police Academy is a 1984 comedy film directed by Hugh Wilson, and starring Steve GuttenbergKim Cattrall, and G.W. Bailey. It grossed approximately $146 million worldwide, and spawned six more films in the Police Academy series.

Due to a shortage of police officers, the newly-elected female mayor of an unnamed American city has announced a policy requiring the police department to accept all willing recruits, effectively abolishing fitness requirements, educational levels, and medical standards. Not everyone in the police force is happy about the new changes.

Carey Mahoney (Guttenberg) is an easy-going man who has repeatedly gotten himself in trouble with the law when standing up to arrogant people. Mahoney is forced to join the police force as an alternative to jail, a proposal by Captain Reed who has been lenient on Mahoney because he knew his father, who was also a policeman. Mahoney reluctantly agrees to this, deciding that he will get himself thrown out as a loophole. However, the chief of police, Henry Hurst (George R. Robertson), outraged by the Mayor’s lowered requirements, decides that the new cadets should be forced to quit rather than being thrown out.

Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey), who trains the cadets and is also implied to be seeking Lassard’s place as the leader of the academy, agrees with the plan and employs tactics to make their lives as miserable as possible so that they do in fact quit. However, Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) is the only one who does not agree with both Harris and Hurst’s schemes, and wants to give the new cadets a chance. Harris asks for the help of two cadets he takes a liking to, Copeland (Scott Thomson) and Blankes (Brant von Hoffman), and appoints them as squad leaders to help him force the other cadets to quit.

Mahoney tries several schemes to get thrown out, but all fail. In Lassard’s office, he reveals to Mahoney his deal with Capt. Reed to keep him at the police academy for the next 24 weeks. Eventually he has a change of heart and decides to stay for good, having fallen in love with another cadet, Karen Thompson (Kim Cattrall). While in the academy, Mahoney becomes friends with fellow cadets Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow), a human beatbox and sound effects man who was arrested with Mahoney before they came to the academy (Mahoney pulled some strings with Reed to let Jones go with Mahoney to attend the academy); George Martin (Andrew Rubin), a ladies man; Eugene Tackleberry (David Graf), a gun-obsessed adrenaline junkie who is an ex-security guard and a military veteran; Leslie Barbara (Donovan Scott), an overweight cowardly man; and Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith), a giant of a man with incredible strength. He and Harris also build up a mutual emnity when Mahoney pranks the lieutenant every time Harris enforces harsh measures on him in order to break his resolve.

At Lt. Harris’ request, Blankes and Copeland try to learn where a weekend party organized by Mahoney is going to be held, to investigate it for any unlawful cadet behavior. Wary that they’re using an intimidated Barbara to force him to reveal where the party is, Mahoney tricks Blankes and Copeland into attending a party at the Blue Oyster gay bar where the horrified men are intimidated into dancing the whole night. Seeking revenge, Blankes and Copeland plant a hooker in Mahoney’s dormitory to stir up trouble. Mahoney attempts to smuggle the hooker off the academy campus but is forced to hide with her under a desk in an assembly hall, just as Cmndt Lassard leads in a group of senior police officers to give a lecture while standing behind the very desk the two are hiding under. While Mahoney is not looking, the hooker gets up to some kinky mischief and performs fellatio on Lassard, who struggles to keep a straight face. As the room is cleared, Mahoney steps out from under the desk, but finds Lassard still present, implying to him it was Mahoney who performed the act. Despite attempting to report this to Harris, Lassard eventually relents.

Mahoney helps Hightower prepare for a critical driving test. They go for a practice drive the night before the exam by stealing Copeland’s car. They are chased by the police for crashing into another car and speeding, but Hightower manages to escape and in the process greatly sharpens his driving skills. Unfortunately, immediately after Hightower passes the driving test, Copeland racially insults fellow cadet Laverne Hooks (Marion Ramsey) for accidentally running over his feet during her exam. Hightower is offended and lifts and overturns the police car in which Copeland is seated, despite Harris’ demands and Hooks’ pleas for him to stop. This leads Harris to promptly eject Hightower from the academy, much to Mahoney and many of the other cadets’ dismay.

Shortly after this, Mahoney and Barbara are having lunch in the cafeteria and talking about Hightower’s expulsion. Mahoney is finally fed up with the academy, but refuses to quit. Blankes and Copeland attempt to get Mahoney to fight them so they can give Harris a reason to expel him, but Mahoney resists. Having enough of their misconduct towards Mahoney, Barbara stands up for him and shocks everyone by throwing the first punch at Copeland. An offended Blankes retaliates, which promptly gets Mahoney involved in a brawl with him. After the fight, when Lt. Harris asks them who started the fight, Mahoney takes the blame for throwing the first punch to protect Barbara, which finally gives Harris the green light to expel his most despised cadet.

Before Mahoney actually leaves the premises, however, a major riot breaks out downtown, inadvertently caused by cadet Fackler who always attracts accidents to others around him. Mahoney decides to join the academy students in the mission to pacify it. The resulting police emergency forces the cadets into real action for the first time, and they are accidentally transported to the very epicenter of the rioting instead of the planned peripheral area (due to Lassard giving the wrong location). During the general confusion, one criminal manages to steal Blankes and Copeland’s police revolvers, captures Harris and takes him to the roof of a nearby building as a hostage. Mahoney attempts a rescue but is taken as a second hostage. Just as both are about to be killed, Hightower suddenly appears on the rooftop. The former cadet manages to fool the madman into thinking that he is a fellow crook and demands that he kill Harris. When the criminal tries to pull the trigger, Hightower knocks him unconscious, and Hooks arrests him.

Mahoney and Hightower are both reinstated as cadets and graduate from the academy a few days later. For their rescue of Harris and capture of his kidnapper, they also receive the academy’s highest commendation and medals. Each address the crowd, but as Mahoney attempts to give a long speech, Lassard (now aware of the full facts of the earlier incident) uses the same hooker to prank Mahoney. All of the cadets (minus Blankes and Copeland) graduate with flying colors, finally winning a respectful salute from the reluctant Harris.


Academy Cadets

Academy staff


Paul Maslansky says he got the idea for the film when in San Francisco filming The Right Stuff:

I noticed a bunch of ludicrous-looking police cadets being dressed down by a frustrated sergeant. They were an unbelievable bunch-including a lady who must have weighed over 200 pounds and a flabby man of well over 50. I asked the sergeant about them, and he explained that the mayor had ordered the department to accept a broad spectrum for the academy. “We have to take them in,”…[he said] …”And the only thing we can do is wash them out.”

Maslansky said he wondered “But what if they actually made it?” He took the idea to Alan Ladd Jr who agreed to finance. Neal Israel was hired to write the script with Pat Proft. Israel said:

It’s a matter of `block comedy scenes. Perhaps the most recognizable was the obvious results of guys eating beans in `Blazing Saddles.’ If you have four or five of these block comedy scenes in a teen-age comedy, you have a hit. If your block comedy scenes are very, very strong ones, you have a blockbuster.

Hugh Wilson was hired as director based on his success with WKRP in Cincinnati even though he was not familiar with many films of this genre. He then saw a lot of those sort of movies and says “it was fairly discouraging. This immediately convinced me to cut down on the sleaze. I asked for, and got, the power to refine the Israel-Proft script. Maintaining that `funny is money,’ I wanted to go for real laughter rather than going for the elements such as gratuitous sex and anti-Establishment exploits. I wanted jokes which were rooted in reality.”

Maslanksy says Wilson “took a lot of the vulgarity out; some of the very things I considered necessary. I worried that it was becoming more homogenized, and I told Hugh, `Let’s keep some of the flatulence in.'”

Wilson says “I found out that the shower scene, the party scene and the fellatio scene were obligatory; I had to put them in. So I was stuck with trying to make those scenes as artistic as possible.”

According to the Los Angeles Times about “20 of the major elements in the movie” remain from the Israel and Proft version. Israel says that when Wilson and Maslansky turned in their rewrite to the Ladd Company, “it was rejected and the project was almost shelved. Only when they put back in dozens of our gags did the project get the go ahead.”

Some of the scenes Wilson was unhappy with included the fellatio scene and the scene where a police sergeant was hurled into the back of a horse. A compromise was reached where these acts were not actually shown.

“I realize that you can carry grossness, rudeness and crudeness just so far before the audience finds it terribly repetitive and not so funny,” said Wilson. “After the enormous success of Police Academy, I no longer believe that you have to show the female breast or make cruel ethnic jokes-not to mention the rampant sexism. And you don’t have to reproduce the sounds that an overfed body makes.”

Paul Malansky says that original feedback on the film was that it was not gross enough. “What are you trying to do?, make a damned Tootsie?” said one executive. “Paul, it doesn’t fit the formula; it needs more flatulence, more slobbishness, more T&A.,” said another.

Police Academy opened in the number 1 spot in 1,587 U.S. theaters on March 23, 1984 to a first weekend total gross of $8.6 million. It faced strong competition at the time of its release from such high-profile comedies as GhostbustersGremlinsRomancing the StoneSplashBachelor Party (which also featured a screenplay by Police Academy co-writers Neal Israel and Pat Proft), Cannonball Run IIMoscow on the HudsonSixteen Candles and Rhinestone. Despite all of this, the film would go on to take in a final total of $81.2 million, becoming 6th highest grossing film of 1984. The film was also a success worldwide, grossing approximately $146 million.

Although it was a commercial success, it received a mixed reception. The film currently has a 39% “Rotten” rating at the film review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 18 reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film zero stars out of four, commenting that “It’s really something. It’s so bad, maybe you should pool your money and draw straws and send one of the guys off to rent it so that in the future, whenever you think you’re sitting through a bad comedy, he could shake his head, and chuckle tolerantly, and explain that you don’t know what bad is”. Critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times, however, gave the film a favorable review.

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