Blu-ray Review: Dragnet (1987)

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Making its Blu-ray debut is Dan Aykroyd's 1987 Dragnet, courtesy of Shout Factory's imprint Shout Select. Those not old enough to remember the '80s may very well marvel at the fact that when Dragnet hit theaters, Aykroyd was a bigger draw than his second-billed costar, Tom Hanks. With his SNL pedigree and iconic classics The Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters (not to mention hits like Trading Places and Spies Like Us), Aykroyd was on a major roll when he resurrected Sgt. Joe Friday. More specifically, this was the original Friday's incredibly square nephew, who also works for the LAPD. Rather than merely remake the Jack Webb-created TV series, Aykroyd (who co-scripted with Alan Zweibel and director Tom Mankiewicz) brought the quaint Joe Friday sensibility into the '80s.

Hanks plays Friday's new, younger, hipper partner, Det. Pep Streebek. Aykroyd and Hanks make for a terrific 'odd couple,' working the beat during a series of robberies that includes the entire pressing of the latest issue of soft-core porn mag Bait. Among Dragnet's impeccable supporting cast is Dabney Coleman, doing a Hugh Hefner riff (albeit far sleazier) as the publisher of Bait. Christopher Plummer, of all thespians, is on hand as hypocritical zealot Reverend Jonathan Whirley. And original costar of TV's Dragnet Harry Morgan has received a promotion, now Friday and Streebek's boss, Capt. Bill Gannon.

The surprisingly involved plot finds Friday and Streebek on the trail of a bizarre cult known as P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness and Normalcy) whose traditions involve the literal sacrificing of virgins. After rescuing one such virgin, Connie Swail (then-newcomer Alexandra Paul, later of Baywatch fame), Sgt. Friday finds himself in the middle of a budding romance.

If you're an Aykroyd and/or Hanks fan and still have not seen Dragnet, the time is now. I hadn't seen the movie in decades and I found it to be nearly as entertaining a romp as I did when I was a 12-year-old kid munching on Milk Duds at the movie theater in the summer of '87. Nothing but nostalgia for an aging child of the '80s? Well, maybe. But Aykroyd is simply letter-perfect as the "just the facts, ma'am" Friday. And Hanks, not yet Oscar-nominated and still "the guy from Bosom Buddies" to a lot of us, is having a blast as the wild Streebek. The jokes mostly all land and, despite a somewhat labored and overlong climactic act, this buddy comedy has aged remarkably well.

If you're not convinced, here's the only reason one needs to see Dragnet: "City of Crime," the movie's end credits song. This is a rap tune with in-character vocals by none other than Aykroyd and Hanks. It's one of the funniest, cheesiest, most underrated pieces of '80s gold ever unleashed upon an unassuming public. Aykroyd's Friday-style delivery fits the genre surprisingly well and Hanks adopts a credible Ad-Rock inflection. Why oh why did Shout Factory fail to include the MUSIC VIDEO on this new Blu-ray edition?? It pains me to report that this classic MTV time-capsule moment is MIA. But the song can still be heard in glorious DTS-HD MA as the credits run. Don't miss it.

One invaluable nugget that Shout did include as a bonus feature is the 45-minute promotional special Just the Facts!, an entertaining (and informative, as it discusses the history of Dragnet) vintage piece hosted by Aykroyd and Hanks (I must admit, I haven't finished watching it, and never saw this gem whenever/wherever it originally aired). There's also a brand new audio commentary by pop culture historian Russell Dyball and an interview with Alexandra Paul.

Dragnet was a hit in 1987 (number 14 on the year's highest grossing films, ahead of better-remembered successes like Robocop, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and that year's Bond entry, The Living Daylights). Somehow it has slipped into undeserving obscurity. With this new Shout Select Blu-ray, it has a chance to reach a new audience (and of course re-delight those of us who remember it from the first time around).

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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