#ThrowbackThursday – Dragnet (1987)

Original US release date: June 26, 1987
Production budget: $20,000,000
Worldwide gross: $66,673,516

With all of the success that Tom Hanks has achieved in the world of film due to his dramatic roles, it can be easy to forget that he started out as a comedian.  Twelve of his first fourteen films were flat-out comedies, and 1987’s Dragnet (adapted from two separate TV series, both starring Jack Webb) was one of those early films.  Here’s the thing: the TV series wasn’t a comedy.  In fact, the film is pretty much a full-on spoof of that original series.  In this day and age, fans of the show would have been throwing a tantrum and somehow drawing the conclusion that the original series had been retroactively ruined by a new and different take.  But that was a simpler, less entitled time.  So, in 1987, the movie came out, people watched it, and more than three times its budget was earned.

Joining Hanks is the legendary Dan Aykroyd (riding the wave of his “Saturday Night Live” and Ghostbusters momentum) and director Tom Mankiewicz, helming only his second and ultimately final feature film.  Aykroyd plays straight-laced Agent Joe Friday, the nephew of Jack Webb’s original Joe Friday.  Hanks assumes the role of Friday’s new partner, Pep Streebeck.  The polar opposite of Friday, Streebeck is footloose and fancy free, soaking life in and enjoying every moment of it.  This sort of dichotomy is typical for buddy movies, but that doesn’t mean that Hanks and Aykroyd don’t excel at it.

In fact, the film makes it very easy to see why Aykroyd was so popular and how Hanks caught on with the masses and became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history.  Despite being antitheses of each other, both Friday and Streebeck are charming, likable, and charismatic.  They’re perfect compliments and the chemistry between Hanks and Aykroyd is natural and effortless.  They easily play off of each other and I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t do more films together.

I also have to wonder why this film has become all but forgotten by audiences over time.  Even I had only seen it once in my life and that was many, many years ago.  I wasn’t expecting it to be particularly enjoyable when turning it on to watch it for this column.  But then, something happened: the very first line made me laugh out loud.  And I laughed for the duration of the film.  Dragnet is far more witty and far more clever than I was prepared for it to be.  Combine the sharp writing with the fantastic delivery and performances by the cast (including Hanks and Aykroyd but by no means limited to them) and this film is a forgotten gem that deserves to be remembered.

Dragnet is one of those films that isn’t making a statement or espousing social commentary; its only goal is to be an entertaining comedy.  It succeeds without question.  Even though it’s been lost in the shuffle of thousands upon thousands of other films over the last 29 years, I hope that its longtime fans and anyone involved in the making of the film, itself, remembers it proudly.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a try (be aware that its PG-13 rating is pushed to the limit by a strip club scene, if you’re watching it with your kids).  Comedies like this are hard for me to write a lot about because they are so focused on simply being entertaining, not leaving much else to comment upon.  But I felt a little guilty that I had forgotten about it, myself, and exposing it to a new audience would make me feel a little better.  I don’t think anyone with an appreciation for wit and humor will feel misled.

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