Sunday Afternoon Movie: Dragnet [1987]


“Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years rockin my peers and putting suckas in fear making the tears rain down like a MON-soon listen to the bass go BOOM.”

While we pause for a moment to contemplate the immortal words from Ladies Love Cool James (aka L.L Cool J), let me welcome you back to the warm winter embrace of The Sunday Afternoon Movie. For our return to the world of cozy Sundays, I have picked the charms of Dragnet. Tom Hanks and Dan Ackroyd’s often overlooked remake of the hit TV series is the perfect way to reintroduce this feature, but we’ll get to that in a moment,

It has been a while since I’ve sat down to watch the cinematic equivalent of a comfy pair of slippers. On a side note I haven’t owned a comfy pair of slippers in a while (note to sell, purchase comfy slippers at the earliest opportunity). Sod it, if I’m going to do this right then I’m off to the shops first to get some comfy slippers.

[One hour later]

Having returned from the shops with everything required for The Sunday Afternoon Movie, it has dawned on me that I haven’t purchased a pair of slippers. I will have to make use of empty cereal boxes, again.

Making a movie from a TV series continues to be a troublesome balancing act, long before a wave a cop movie spoofs graced became regular fixtures, Dragnet was an early pioneer. The original series was a cultural phenomenon and paved the way for the procedural cop show as we know it today. For the 80s movie reboot, Tom Hanks stars as the reckless Pep Streebek and Dan Aykroyd is the by the book Joe Friday. To keep continuity to the original series, Aykroyd’s Friday is the nephew of the original Joe Friday from the TV series. Got to keep the fanboys happy.

Christopher Plummer excels in his role as Reverend Jonathan Whirley, seemingly a TV friendly charming spokesperson for the Church, but by night he is the leader of a cult determined to bring down decency. Plummer chews his way through his scenes even if he is isn’t given as much screen time as you’d like. Dan Aykroyd can play uptight workaholic in his sleep, his script gives Hanks most of the funny lines and plays into his zany strengths.

I remember watching this movie as a kid with my Dad, when the strip club scene arrived I honestly thought that he would turn it off despite the PG certificate. Oh, the 80s, you could get away with a bit more bare flesh, course language, and your main characters could smoke their guts out. I’m not advocating that PG movies need these attributes; it wouldn’t be right if Harry Potter and Ron Weasley popped out of Hogwarts to go to a strip club or start chain smoking. But in the context of a police movie satire, it works for Dragnet.

Superman writer Tom Mankiewicz makes a rare directorial effort, the late filmmaker only helmed one other theatrically released movie with Delirious. Another underrated comedy featuring John Candy, but I will save that for another day. Dragnet might be a be clumsy in places, but when it allows Hanks off the chain, there is much fun to be had if you’re in the right mood. Ironically, the two subsequent TV reboots of Dragnet went back to being straight faced dramas and ignored the spoof completely.

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