The 'Naked' truth: 'The Final Insult' is fatally short on gags


"Naked Gun 33 1/3 : The Final Insult" is stupider and meaner than the first two films in the very funny series, and it's also shorter. When you walk out, you think: "That was a pretty long trailer. I wonder what the movie will be like."

Does all this bespeak a certain creative exhaustion? Ennui, anyone? Lethargy, sloth, lassitude, decrepitude, obsolescence? Let's put it this way: When you're reduced to yanking the wig off Pia Zadora's head for laughs, it's a pretty good bet Oscar Wilde isn't your screenwriter.

Story has never been a strong point of the series, but in this one anything faintly resembling a narrative is especially diaphanous. The script -- not the gags, but the script -- must have been scratched on a cocktail napkin with the point of a toothpick dipped in gin.

A terrorist -- Fred Ward -- is hired to blow up the Oscars. Who's he working for, the National Society of Film Critics? No. Too funny. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert? Still too funny. He's working for the Libyans. Not funny at all. But first, he has to break out of prison. So Frank Drebin, retired Police Squad investigator and bumblemeister, is infiltrated into "Statesville Prison" to stop the attempt, all of which, quite naturally, climaxes at the Oscar telecast. It's thinner than the paint on the wall.

What remains are essentially two elements -- the movie parodies, a form the "Naked Gun" series has made justly famous, and the elaborate, joke-dense gags. The results are mixed.

"Final Insult" gets off to an amusing start with a vividly choreographed version of the train station shootout in Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables" (albeit ignoring the problem that De Palma has already ripped that sequence off in "Carlito's Way"). It's pretty funny, nevertheless, bringing in President Clinton, a passel of gun-crazed postmen and no less than three different baby carriages.

But from that point on, the movie's parodistic spirit limps sadly, and since "that point" is two minutes into the film, it's not a good sign. The film lumbers through a number of dim imitations of "Thelma and Louise," "White Heat," "Jurassic Park" and several others, but the director, Peter Segal, lacks the old director David Zucker's instinctive gift to penetrate the essence of the target. He's more the skewed than the skewerer.

Two gag sequences stand out; one takes Drebin to a fertility clinic where, in order to stay undercover as a patient, he's got to continue to produce . . . well, this job is too good to lose, so I'd better stop there. Second, an elaborate deconstruction of the Oscars themselves has its many moments of mean-spirited merriment, particularly as it plays off Leslie Nielsen's vague resemblance to Phil Donahue. Knocking Phil out, Nielsen takes his place and goes hog-wild in an attempt to uncover a terrorist bomb hidden in the envelopes. Among his tropes: He gives a Richard Gere-like speech in which he recommends that cats be skinned to keep homeless children warm, he ritually humiliates good sport Zadora, he kicks poor Raquel Welch and he throws up into a tuba.

Other than Nielsen's unflappable deadpan and Zadora's chipper gameness, none of the other performers distinguish themselves, and the "crew" -- George Kennedy and O. J. Simpson -- is grimmer than ever. Priscilla Presley is uninteresting, and her lack of comic resource ruins the "Thelma and Louise" job. Ward, a real actor, is reduced to a single boring dimension. Then there's Anna Nicole Smith, who is not an actress and shows it. But at least she can't be reduced to a single boring dimension.

"Naked Gun 33 1/3 :

The Final Insult"

Starring Leslie Nielsen

and Priscilla Presley

Directed by Peter Segal

Released by Paramount


** 1/2

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