When The Naked Gun was first released in 1988, who would have guessed that its star, a minor dramatic actor named Leslie Nielsen, would build a second career out of spoofing other movies? Now a full decade later, Nielsen just keeps on going and going. His new outing, Wrongfully Accused, shows why he continues to be a vital ingredient to the genre. It's silly, stupid and instantly forgettable, but the grand old man's presence lifts it head-and-shoulders above the summer's other spoof, Mafia!.
Nielsen plays Ryan Harrison, the 'Lord of the Violin' (the first of many potshots the film takes at Irish folk dancing, which has officially replaced the Macarena as Hollywood's dance joke de jour), whose musical talent wins the heart of Lauren Goodhue (Kelly Le Brock). Mrs. Goodhue, it seems, is trapped in a loveless marriage to a dullard, Hibbing Goodhue (a game Michael York), and can't resist the charms of the dapper violinist. The two fall into an intense love affair which abruptly ends one night when Harrison arrives at her house to find her husband murdered and a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed man (Aaron Pearl) standing over the body. After an elaborate fight, the musician is knocked unconscious and framed for the crime. On his way to prison, though, the bus conveniently skids on a banana peel and flies off the road, allowing him to escape. For the rest of the film, he and his unlikely sidekick, Cass Lake (Melinda McGraw), follow in the footsteps of another famous fugitive, searching for the real killer, while avoiding Federal Marshal Fergus Falls (Richard Crenna), who doggedly pursues them every step of the way.
In general, writer/director Pat Proft, a veteran of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school of comedy, manages to avoid the mistakes his former colleague, Jim Abrahams, made with Mafia!. Where that film unwisely limited its comedic scope to the Godfather movies, Wrongfully Accused sets its sights on a significantly larger number of targets. Some of Proft's choices work (the digs at 'Baywatch,' Field of Dreams and, particularly, The Usual Suspects, are inspired), while others are as fresh as three-week-old lasagna (does anyone even remember Anaconda or Clear and Present Danger?). As usual, the most successful jokes are visual rather than verbal. (In the Mission: Impossible parody, a security system's laser beams form a Star of David; an usher directs the audience to their seats with a light saber.) This being a ZAZ-influenced film as well, many of the gags are decidedly less than wholesome. Still, considering how soft the individual members of the group have been growing in recent years (except for David Zucker, whose BASEketball was not for weak stomachs), it's nice to see one of them willing to be flat-out rude and politically incorrect again.
It's a good thing that Proft has a flair for visual comedy, because as a writer, he's simply not funny. The dialogue is peppered with the usual nonsensical one-liners ZAZ films are famous for, but without the same zing. (Example: 'Women and me are like fire and water, wet and flammable.' Yeah, I didn't laugh either). In fact, many of the jokes sound like leftovers from The Naked Gun and Hot Shots!. It doesn't help that the entire cast (excluding Nielsen, whose delivery and timing remain spot-on perfect) has no idea how to deliver their lines in the deadpan manner the genre demands. Crenna fares the worst; he speeds through his jokes so quickly, they sound even less funny than they already are.
As long as Nielsen is onscreen, though, the movie is in safe hands. By now, the actor must be so familiar with his role that he could no doubt do it in his sleep. Nielsen isn't slumming, though; indeed, parts of Wrongfully Accused rank with his funniest work. In one of the movie's best scenes, Harrison hot-wires a car and gets it stuck in fiesta mode, where it bounces up and down in time to the radio. When he gets out of the car a little while later, he can't stop his body from jiggling. Its a great piece of physical comedy, reminiscent of the classic battle between the male and female sides of Steve Martin's body in All of Me. No one will remember Wrongfully Accused in a year, but thanks to moments like these, Nielsen has assured himself a place in comic history.