A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are sexual shenanigans here, given a subplot about a millionaire porn merchant and a heroine stated to be a confirmed virgin. Pretty much nude is an exotic dancer wearing only nipple pasties and a thong. A storm of swear words issue from one female character old enough to be a grandmother (that's apparently the joke). Violent acts include bloodless gun violence, car crashes/police chases, and a modified tank as battering ram. A powerful priest with Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson attributes turns out to be a lascivious, devil-worshipping master villain. His outdoor Satanist ritual looks like a big party (with Nazi rally overtones). There is a winking attitude towards drugs, drinking, and smoking. An older Dragnet exists on video -- also co-starring Harry Morgan -- but it's the original straight version, not this popular comedy.
What's the story?
The forerunner of DRAGNET was a classic 1950s/'60s TV crime drama (previous to that, a radio show) in which actor Jack Webb played no-nonsense Los Angeles policeman Joe Friday, with a memorable theme song, catchphrases ("Just the facts, ma'am") and monotone diction that was much parodied, even while the show was still running. A Dragnet feature film was even done in 1954. The new Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) is the nephew of the original, and still a proud, hard-driving, immaculately clean-cut LAPD detective. Friday gets a new, younger partner named Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks), who acts like a fun-loving big kid, to Friday's disgust. Together they investigate P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy), a gang committing bizarre acts of vandalism and robbery, especially targeting a Playboy-style magazine. The secret mastermind behind P.A.G.A.N. is a high-profile preacher and conservative opinion-leader (Christopher Plummer) who moonlights in Satan-worship, virgin sacrifices, and racketeering in his efforts to take over the city.
Is it any good?
The movie is consistently funny. But what's the point, besides confronting the ultimate unflappable squaresville cop Joe Friday with such not-ready-for-prime-time offenses as strip clubs, pin-up girls, and devil cults? It all comes together thanks to Dan Aykroyd's dead-on impression of Jack Webb's persona. Even within the confines of a comic caricature, Aykroyd creates a surprisingly sympathetic and fleshed-out hero with the staccato-talking, time-frozen 1950s Joe Friday, and in the course of the outsized mayhem Friday learns to loosen up and form a bond with his mismatched boyish partner (team-player Tom Hanks is not only good, he doesn't try to overshadow his co-star's extravagant schtick).
With prominent Saturday Night Live talent involved, there is quite a bit of topical (euphemism for badly-out-of-date) satire, involving the Moral Majority, the movie dud Yes Giorgio, and a closing Aykroyd-Hanks rap-music (!) theme song that's sooooo stuck in the 1980s.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of cop movies, TV shows, and other media, from the Dick Tracy comic strip all the way to CSI. Do they make kids want to be police officers? Ask some real-life officers if Joe Friday or other fictional characters inspired them to go into law enforcement. Or do they relate to any of these outlandish, outsized Hollywood versions at all? So kids get a full appreciation of Dan Aykroyd's Friday impersonation, check out some of the vintage TV show on DVD or streaming online.
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