It is Halloween. People dress as cops on that day, right? We will call this the excuse for watching Police Academy (1984). Actually, a bigger reason would be the fact that I had never seen it. It is simultaneously logical and strange that this would be the case. As a child of the 1980s, like everyone else then, I knew about the human sound effects machine that is Michael Winslow. As Larvell Jones, yet another of the cadets at the title institution, the film made Winslow a household face, if not name, for a time. So, even if I did not see it when it came out, I at least had some familiarity with it. The strange part is that I never saw it in the near forty years since it premiered. The logical part is that it has a few nude scenes, and it debuted when I was four. With multiple sequels besides this one, somewhere along the line the series fell out of favor and, also like the rest of humanity, I stopped paying attention. All these factors came together when, on Halloween night, I spotted it on Netflix and decided to finally catch up.
Police Academy has one of those so clichéd beginnings that it is funny, it being a dark and stormy night. Over the metropolitan (which one is never specified) skyline, we see an opening crawl saying that the new mayor is opening up the school to train new officers to anyone who wishes to apply. And I do mean anyone. The first character we see, and never see again, is a building security guard with an itchy trigger finger, going so far as to shoot up the surprise going away party for him as he is about to enter the academy. Our main character, though, is less eager to join the ranks of blue. He is Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), and he makes an art of being irresponsible. His behavior leads him to crash the car of a customer for whom he is asked to park their vehicle. His defiant act gets him arrested, which is apparently not an unfamiliar procedure for him. One of the higher-ups at the station, Captain Reed (Ted Ross), is tired of Carey’s antics and issues an ultimatum: either Carey attends the academy or goes to jail. Of course, there is a catch. There is no forcing someone to be a cop, so Carey must stay, and the only way he can leave is by force. At first, Carey thinks this is going to be easy because he excels in getting under the skin of authority figures. However, we find out on the day that he arrives with the rest of the recruits that, in order to appease the mayor, they cannot summarily dismiss anyone. This is particularly irksome to Chief Henry J. Hurst (George R. Robertson). As the day everyone is getting to the academy, he meets with Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and the immediate subordinate, Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G. W. Bailey). While they are told they cannot force anyone to leave, they are instructed to make life as hard on the cadets as possible to induce them into volunteering to go away. Carey soon discovers the pickle he is in when all his defiance goes uncommented upon, only bringing him worse treatment. Still, it does not stop him from nettling Lieutenant Harris at every opportunity. Such is the second-in-command’s annoyance that he is about the have Carey call Captain Reed and request that the terms of their deal be changed. What stops Carey is seeing his new crush and fellow cadet, Karen Thompson (Kim Cattrall), through the window of Lieutenant Harris’ office. Though foiled for the moment, Lieutenant Harris does not give up on the notion of seeing Carey gone for good. The moment seems to come when a fight breaks out in the cafeteria, and in covering for one of his fellow cadets, Carey takes the blame for throwing the first punch. This offense comes with an automatic dismissal. It would have been the end, too, if not for the fact that a riot has broken out in the city. This is touched off when the clumsiest of all the trainee’s, Douglas Fackler (Bruce Mahler), throws an apple out the window of a squad car. The fruit hits a pedestrian on the head, who mistakes his assailant for someone else, and a fight erupts. This dust-up mutates into a city-wide brawl, with looting and the terrorizing of law enforcement officers. The call is put out to the academy to have the cadets don riot gear and come help with the brewing lawlessness. With everyone getting their gear on, Carey sees the chance to get back in good graces, and slips into the crowd of those being transported to assist with the violent outburst. At first, things appear calm, and it slowly comes out that they have been deployed to the wrong area. No matter, though, because it does not take long for the rioters to find them. In the process, Lieutenant Harris’ two stooges, Kyle Blankes (Brant Von Hoffman) and Chad Copeland (Scott Thomson), have their service revolvers taken from them by one of the criminals. He then proceeds to take Lieutenant Harris hostage. Carey attempts to save his leader, but ends up being captured, too. They are saved by supposedly disgraced cadet Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith). For their heroics, both are reinstated and graduate from the academy with honors. Their graduation day is the final scene.
Police Academy is an unsurprisingly irreverent film. As such, there is not much to latch onto from a Catholic point of view. Still, I will try to do so with Moses, though this has nothing to do with his Biblical name. The reason I called him “supposedly disgraced” is that he is the one student in the class that is told to leave. This happens after the shrinking cadet Laverne Hooks (Marion Ramsey) is called a racial epithet by Chad. This prompts the hulking form of Moses to come forward, who, with his bare hands, flips over the car in which they are training to drive like cops. He does this despite Lieutenant Harris warning him not to do so. It is also just about the most violent thing Moses does besides punching the bad guy at the end. Given his size, he finds that he does not need to do much to be heeded, and that includes speaking. It speaks to a quiet power that I have seen in those who are especially in touch with their Faith. There is a certain gravitas to such individuals, and I have witnessed it in the young and old, big and small alike. There are those that are in touch with the Holy Spirit in such a way that it seems to radiate from them. Some are just like that, but it does not mean that everyone can be this way, or has to be. Still, I admire such people because their Faith seems to come naturally to them, like being born as tall as Moses Hightower.
Given the reputation that came with Police Academy, I expected to be laughing a lot more than I did. Perhaps I would have found this stuff funnier if I had been the right age to see this in 1984. What is pretty fun is seeing Michael Winslow do his thing. There is a mildly entertaining moment when Lieutenant Harris finds Larvell pretending to play an arcade game. The rest of it can be skipped.