To get The Naked Gun and the two or three sequels that came after, you have to first get the humor of the Zucker brothers. They produced these movies, the Police Squad series and the Airplane movies from the early 1980s. I don’t have a single word for their humor. Perhaps, “Accidental humor,” would do. These movies tend to feature klutzes, who are accident prone, in major roles. They save the day, often, by making an unintended mistake.
I was looking for this word yesterday when I wrote a blog about Airplane and the best I came up with was “literal.” Practically everything that is said in these movies is taken literally by all the characters. They are very funny people and yet they take everything that is said completely literally. There’s a scene in Ricardo Montalban’s office with Lieutenant Drebin (Leslie Nielson). Montalbano holds a box of cigars up in front of the lieutenant and says, “Cuban”, offering a Cuban cigar. Drebin replies, “No, Scotch-Irish my father was from Wales,” apparently thinking that Montalban was asking him about his ancestry and not noticing the Cuban cigars that are right in front of his nose.
The Zucker brothers humor is also accidentally sarcastic, which is tough to explain. Sargent Nordberg (O.J. Simpson) gets shot early in the movie during an undercover operation and the Captain (George Kennedy) tells Drebin that Nordberg has a ninety percent chance of recovering from the gun shot wounds. Then he says there’s only a fifty percent shot at that. They are talking about boxers and one of the guys says “I know Kid Cleveland, he fights out of Minneapolis, and the Texas Tornado fights out of Chicago.”
The Naked Gun is about a corrupt Los Angeles businessman (Ricardo Montalban) who uses his legitimate business as a cover for his criminal organization. He has a big drug shipment coming into Los Angeles. Police Squad, a big shot division of LAPD is all over it. Sargent Nordberg is shot during their investigation. Drebin and his team are investigating the drug shipment while the Queen of England is visiting Los Angeles.
Montalban and his crew want the drug shipments to go through and to assassinate the Queen of England. Police Squad has inside information that someone is trying to kill her. Drebin and company have to investigate and stop that from happening. All of these accident prone people taking everything that is said literally make for an hysterical action comedy.