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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 27, 1987


Tom Mankiewicz
Dan Aykroyd;
Tom Hanks;
Alexandra Paul;
Harry Morgan;
Christopher Plummer;
Dabney Coleman;
Elizabeth Ashley;
Jack O'Halloran;
Kathleen Freeman
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Dragnet" is so easy to parody that even the telephone company can do it. In fact, legions of lampooners have aimed at the legendary radio, then TV show, but few with such obvious affection as Dan Aykroyd, cowriter and star of the latest, likable spoof.

Aykroyd, shaped these days like a pizza box, looks the perfect square in the part of Joe Friday's namesake nephew. He's Friday by the book -- jaw set in concrete and face locked in a law-and-order stare. Only his blue-black hairline moves when he is irked by the evils of the '80s. These include, to Friday's way of thinking, hip new partner Pep Streebek, pleasantly played by Tom Hanks.

There's enjoyable chemistry between the two, but not the sort that sequels are made on. Aykroyd's straight man gets most of the laughs with his hilarious variation on the late Jack Webb's hard-bitten dialogue, with Hanks playing less often off the priggish, ever-positive Friday.

Friday's pride in the LAPD extends even to their compact squad car -- a Yugo he describes as on "the cutting edge of Serbo-Croatian technology."

As you'd imagine, Friday and Streebek must pursue chauffeur-driven bad guys. The trumped-up chase scenes aren't the least amusing as directed by Tom Mankiewicz in his feature film debut. Primarily known for his James Bond and Superman screenplays, Mankiewicz also wrote the lively screenplay with Aykroyd and "It's Garry Shandling's Show" producer Alan Zweibel. The three writers fall short when it comes to the action, but do excel at setting Friday's '50s conservatism against the attitudes of the '80s.

When a near-naked stripper bends and gives Friday a come-hither leer from between her legs, the unflappable detective nods, tips his hat. "Ma'am," he says. Later, while Streebek admires the centerfolds in residence at an L.A. girlie magazine mogul's mansion, Friday, his vocal cords clenched, is compelled to comment: "How could Jerry Caesar {the aforementioned playboy} build a modern Gomorrah smack in the city where they recorded 'We Are the World'?"

Dabney Coleman plays the porn publisher Caesar with a Truman Capote lisp and a Hugh Hefner pasteurized lasciviousness. The partners discover a scheme to overthrow L.A.'s mayor while investigating a robbery at Caesar's warehouse. Someone or something took every copy of his 25th-anniversary issue. Christopher Plummer plays a prime suspect in a timely role as a larcenous televangelist who manipulates Elizabeth Ashley, as the police commissioner. The real focus of the movie is the same as in every other cop movie -- the growing tolerance and friendship between two guys forced to ride around all day in the same squad car.

The leads are supported by Harry Morgan reprising his role as Bill Gannon, Friday's partner in the TV series, and up-and-comer Alexandra Paul in a charming role as Connie Swail, the virgin from Anaheim. In a sweet farcical touch, Swail, who is nearly sacrificed by a group of evil goat worshipers, falls for Friday when he and Streebek rescue the Orange County conservative from the goat group, called P.A.G.A.N., which stands for People Against Goodness and Normalcy. Yes, it is lowbrow and sophomoric. What you'd call dumb-de-dumb-dumb fun.

Dragnet, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains some profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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