The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear is the sequel to one of the best comedy films ever made. I don’t know if you can expect it to even come close to the success of its predecessor, although those expectations are certainly on it. All of the key figures from the first Naked Gun have returned, so at least all of the talent is in the right place. It’s not quite as good, although I’ll still admit to laughing for a good portion of its running time.
The film once again stars Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin, now a Lieutenant in a special division of the police. There’s an explosion at a research institute, and he’s called in to investigate. Inside, he finds his former lover, Jane (Priscilla Presley), who left him between films because he was too focused on his police work. She’s now dating Quentin Hapsburg (Robert Goulet), who fits the description of a potential suspect, but nobody takes notice of this. Ah ha! Dramatic irony! We saw this last time and it was funny, so it’ll be funny this time. Truth be told, it still is. Our villain is established.
His scheme this time around is to ensure that non-renewable resources become what the President of the United States winds up supporting. A speech being given by Dr. Meinheimer (Richard Griffiths) is going to determine the decision, and his goal is to ensure what that speech talks about — mainly by replacing the real Meinheimer with a copycat, and changing the speech to something more suited to the oil companies. How devious! You can see why Frank needs to stop him.
And, hey, if he can win back Jane’s heart in the process, all the better, right? The film is as silly as the first installment, and I liked that about it. There’s no real danger at any moment, even despite all of the precarious situations that Frank gets himself and his colleagues into. Much of the humor is slapstick, and one of the rules of that comedic style is that nobody can really get hurt. I suppose this would hurt it if it was trying to be a serious thriller, but luckily for it, it’s a Naked Gun movie.
The film is not as funny as the first one. It really couldn’t be. With how much creativity went into the first Naked Gun, how much could be left for a sequel? Well, apparently, plenty, but not quite enough to fill an entire film. This one plays for only 81 minutes, and it sometimes feels long. The jokes are not quite as frequent or as humorous, and some drag. This is still a very enjoyable movie, but coming off the great success that was The Naked Gun, it is disappointing.
Perhaps it’s because it tried to be even more crass. If you can’t come up with something more creative, go for something you didn’t want to risk. The censors will let you get away with more in a sequel to a film that made a lot of money, so tack on that extra genital joke that you stuffed away last time. This one feels dirtier, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is in this case because that’s what was used as filler. If a real joke couldn’t be told, something dirty would to fill the time. The first film was juvenile, sure, but with an innocence to it. This is like the first grader just learning about bad words.
It’s also much more plot oriented, which came as a bit of a surprise. That’s not a bad thing, but this approach doesn’t allow as much divergence or indulgence. Gags that might have worked before can’t here because there’s more urgency — the entire course of history can be changed if Frank doesn’t stop Quentin’s plan. Part of me likes this, as it means there’s more to talk and think about after the film ends, but it doesn’t allow the film to be as funny as it could have been. In a comedy, that’s all that ultimately matters.
The style of humor has been kept the same, it’s just that there’s less of it. There still isn’t any real focus on characters, motivations, or relationships, with much of these things happening because “well, it’ll be funny.” It keeps The Naked Gun 2½ unpredictable. You never know what direction it might take as soon as a scene begins. And it does all of this with a love for its targets, which is always nice. You know the filmmakers aren’t mean-spirited, which helps keep the tone fairly light.
Leslie Nielsen is still a joy to watch in the lead role. He’s sillier here than he was in the last film, although he still mostly employs a deadpan delivery. Even he can’t keep a straight face for the film’s entirety. Neither could I. Cynical as I might have wanted to be — The Naked Gun is one of the funniest movies ever — I still laughed for a good portion of the time it was playing. It got to me. It will probably get to you.
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear probably doesn’t deserve to be as funny as it is. Its predecessor was so hilarious and creative that it’s amazing the filmmakers were able to come up with more in order to keep us laughing. While this isn’t as good as the first one, it’s still a very enjoyable movie that will keep you laughing for most of its running time. It’s cruder, its jokes aren’t flung at you with the same frequency, and it more often drags, but this is still a very funny movie that you will enjoy if you liked The Naked Gun.