DAN AYKROYD lived his whole life for this. His talent for television-age mimicry -- from fast-talking "Bass-O-Matic" appliance huckster to hunchbacked, twitchy Richard Nixon -- makes him the prime choice for "Dragnet's" Joe Friday.
This Joe Friday, a Los Angeles detective, is a chip off his fictional namesake uncle's block. Aykroyd makes him a human Uzi with rapidfire just-the-factsspeak. Everything before the sergeant's compulsive scrutiny is grist for statistical analysis, law maintenance or American gothic morality. He scolds a bunch of street hoods for mugging on a school night, laments rampant crime in "the same city that made 'We Are the World,' " and introduces a young lady (who has stirred his suppressed sexuality) to his grandmother as "the Virgin Connie Swail."
Involuntarily teamed up with street-wise, woman-ogling partner Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks), Friday gets caught up in a nefarious series of crimes involving pagan cultists and citywide intrigue -- you know, the usual stuff going on in L.A. during any given movie. But it's the odd-buddy chemistry that counts. In fact, Aykroyd's so funny, Hanks doesn't have to be. He frequently lets Aykroyd lead the yuks -- why fight an inspired maniac? At one point, Friday sounds off about Streebek's wanton behavior: "There are two differences between men and animals, Streebek. One is cutlery and the other is the ability to control our sexual urges . . ."
Famed script doctor Tom Mankiewicz, in his directorial debut, creates the required breakneck car chases, stunt tumbles, major crowd scenes and SWAT gunfire around Aykroyd and Hanks. We're essentially watching "48 Hours" or "Beverly Hills Cop," only with different funny people. Plus the script is a gold mine of one-liners penned by Aykroyd, Mankiewicz and ex-"Saturday Night Live" writer Alan Zweibel.
The supporting players are uniformly good within their small roles. Dabney Coleman is lispy pornlord Jerry Caesar, who surrounds himself with girlies from his magazine, Bait. Christopher Plummer and Elizabeth Ashley, taking a break from more serious roles, are ably ominous as quasi-Moral Majority Reverend Whirley and hard-as-nails LAPD chief Jane (that's Jane) Kirkpatrick, respectively.
And Harry Morgan reprises his TV role as Bill Gannon which, once again, involves raising his eyebrows and shaking his weary head -- but this time it's not lawless goons that get his goat. It's that new flat-top noodlehead Joe Friday. DRAGNET (R) --
At area theaters.