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Dragnet (1987)

Film review: Dragnet (1987), directed by Tom Mankiewicz

Billed to be a parody of the TV series of the same name this 1987 film stars Sergeant Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd), who is the epitome of a straight-laced LAPD cop. He does things completely by the book and talks like a private eye from the 1930s or 1940s. His new partner, Detective Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks), is a lot more easy-going, but they gel surprisingly quickly.

Which is just as well as crime network P.A.G.A.N. are on the rise, causing mayhem in town. Indeed, the film kicks off with magazine tycoon Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman) getting half his 25th anniversary edition of porno mag Bait stolen and the other half torched. All under the beady eye of evil goon Emil Muzz (Jack O’Halloran).

Friday and Streebek have to try and figure out who’s behind it all, before they start to, I dunno, sacrifice virgins.

Also starring Christopher Plummer as Reverend Jonathan Whirley, Harry Morgan as Captain Bill Gannon, Alexandra Paul as the Virgin Connie Swail, Elizabeth Ashley as Commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick and Kathleen Freeman as Enid Borden.

We were flicking through the channels, and this film had just started. Mr T asked if I had seen it and I said no, I don’t think I have, so we ended up watching it. I don’t feel like a gaping hole in my movie education has been filled. Instead, I seriously question the naming of the evil organisation.

Where to start? The black calling cards left behind at crime scenes depicting a goat’s head, making you think of devil worshipping. Then the cult itself dress in goatskin leggings, and basically toast Satan (or “Shaitan” – but y’know, same shit, different haircut). Oh yes, and there are bats, snakes and sacrificial virgins. And what do they call it? “Pagan.” And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the acronym P.A.G.A.N. stands for “People Against Goodness And Normalcy”.

Subtle, Hollywood. Really fucking subtle.

The original Wicker Man (1973) was less offensive to actual Pagans. Here, it’s just “hey you know what would be cool? Completely shafting Paganism! Let’s totally reinforce the wildly inaccurate ‘Paganism is Devil Worshipping’ stereotype! Because THAT never gets old!”

“You have a problem with a PARODY FILM doing a parody of stuff? Really?!” I do if it’s not clearly a parody of that particular thing, but in fact mirrors a negative stereotype that a heck of a lot of people believe to be true (even though it isn’t). But they can get away with it because it’s poking fun at a minority religion, and poking fun at minorities is totally cool, right?

I don’t know if you need to have any sort of prior knowledge about the TV series of the same name it’s parodying, which I don’t have because if it ever was shown on Swedish TV it would have been well before my time. If it’s particularly hilarious to real cops, or to people who know the original TV series, I wouldn’t know. As a film for the uninitiated it’s a buddy cop film with some amusing one-liners, where one of the funniest scenes is one of the guys having to queue up to use a payphone, because lol ancient technology.

But I digress.

Is it a funny film? Parts of it are certainly amusing. Christopher Plummer is fantastically cheesy at times (in a good/funny way!), but you know straight away who the bad guy is and the rest is just a pretty standard buddy cop comedy, where you know what’s going to happen. (They get suspended? HOLY CRAP, I COULD NEVER HAVE SEEN THAT ONE COMING! And right in time for the third act as well! Woah, MIND BLOWN!) Well, except for the chalk and cheese partners very quickly warm up to each other’s annoying quirks.

Maybe Mr T simply bigged Dragnet up too much for it to possibly live up to my expectations. Or maybe because the baddies were referred to as “Pagan” without batting an eyelid, so if you’re someone who identifies as a Pagan, it’s pretty much as offensive as if you were a Muslim and the organisation had been called “I.S.L.A.M.” and perpetuated the negative – and equally inaccurate – stereotype of all Muslims being evil, misogynistic terrorists (which a lot of people, sadly, believe to be true). Would that have been okay? No? I didn’t think so. If it had been tongue-in-cheek by real Pagans, maybe it would have worked, but it isn’t, so it doesn’t.

2 out of 5 crashed cars.

Traxy

An easily distracted Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on.

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