Before watching the movie:
Police Academy grew into a franchise of irreverent comedy, which I kind of have the same impression of as of Carry On, only with at least a cohesive theme. I think the third movie is the most popular, but this is where it started. If this one hadn’t done well, there wouldn’t be a III. As far as I know, there are still “Police Academy” movies being made, in the kind of sad way cheap movies get the “National Lampoon” name put on them.
After watching the movie:
A few months previous, the Mayor decreed that the police force must not discriminate based on “height, weight, sex, education, or physical strength” in its acceptance of new recruits. The chief of police in particular is galled by this idea, longing for the days when his men were men, all of the right color and physical capability. In order to correct the Mayor’s decision, the chief orders the Academy leadership that, rather than expel any of the new recruits of this first open class, they should make life miserable for anyone who doesn’t cut the mustard, and thereby make everyone who doesn’t fit the mold think twice about trying to sign up. Into this climate comes Carey Mahoney, a repeat troublemaker with a history of pranking deserving targets, given the option of joining the Academy or going to jail by his deceased policeman father’s old partner. He doesn’t want to be there, they aren’t allowed to throw him out, and he’s not allowed to quit. His class includes all the recruits the Lieutenant specifically wants out: the troublemakers, the meek, the unfit, the women, and the nonwhites.
It’s tough to classify what the objective of the movie is. On the one hand, these rejects are the heroes, and so have the chance to overcome their shortcomings and show what they’re really worth. The villains are explicitly anti-diversity. But on the other hand, the bulk of the movie is “here’s a bunch of losers who have no hope of being police officers. Let’s laugh at them!” That message comes very close to saying that the restrictions the Mayor did away with were necessary for creating an adequate police force. However, none of the listed restrictions have anything to do with why any of these characters shouldn’t be police, which is almost universally attitude problems. They don’t like authority, they can’t stand up for themselves, or they love all the wrong things about the job, or they just don’t have the intelligence.
Perhaps the best evidence that the point they intended to make is that it’s not physical attributes but attitude that make a good police officer is in Thompson and Hightower, who are a woman and a black man respectively, and are unquestionably police material (except Hightower can have a slight temper problem when it comes to racists). But are they remembered, the straight characters? Or is the lasting impression of the movie “it’s about a bunch of cadets who shouldn’t be cops!”? Even though the movie has to lean on a petty bigot’s order not to wash out anybody, the higher-profile reason they’re there is the Mayor’s inclusion policy.
I felt like this was trying to be Revenge of the Nerds, but it lacked the caste division that that movie ran on. Every character here is either a reject or an authority figure. There’s so many different reasons why they shouldn’t be where they are that the rejects don’t feel cohesive beyond what bonds they manage to make during training. The Lieutenant picks a couple of idiots who are good at following orders to act as enforcers and spies for him, so they have blatant outsiders among them.
There is a lot of fun to be had here. And there’s a lot of heart in the main characters to appreciate. But as soon as the opening exposition dump declared the reason the story is possible as “the Mayor ordered the police to stop discriminating”, I was braced for problems. Problems which I’m still not sure weren’t there.