There were a handful of movies that were in heavy rotation when I was about ten years old and over the past few years, I’ve revisited almost all of them. Even if I don’t like all of them so many years later, in almost every instance, I’ve been able to understand why my child-self enjoyed them. Except for DRAGNET. For starters, I never should have been allowed to watch the PG-13 film, but since I was, I should have been able to recognize, even at a young age, that it wasn’t a good movie. Revisiting it in 2018 was a painful experience.
We love to make fun of the lack of originality in Hollywood these days since every second rate TV show gets the movie or remake treatment, but that trend started many years ago. DRAGNET wasn’t the first to do it, but let’s give it some credit for maybe killing the trend for a few years.
It’s clear from the very beginning that DRAGNET has no idea what it wants to be. The TV show was pretty serious and the movie plays alongside that for the first ten minutes. It’s not until we meet Streebek (Hanks) that we begin to believe this is actually a comedy. Streebek is the funny, relaxed partner of Detective Friday (Aykroyd) and virtually the only source of comedy in the film. Dan Aykroyd had his moment in the 80’s, but he was always better as the supporting character rather than the lead. That proves true here as he’s reduced to making weird faces as a car runs over his foot or giving Hanks an evil glare after a one liner.
But the frustrating thing with DRAGNET is the actual story. The investigation into a cult that’s trying to solve a mystery revolving around various crimes committed by the P.A.G.A.N. organization is far too serious for a comedy of this nature. The film was written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz, who prior to this was responsible for writing a handful of James Bond films as well as the old Matthew Broderick starring LADYHAWKE. I can speculate that the seriousness of the film came from Mankiewicz while Aykroyd provided the comedy, giving the film the uneven tone that permeated throughout.
It’s no fault of the filmmakers in 1987, but today we know that giving Tom Hanks a bigger part in this film would have helped the movie, but no amount of Tom Hanks is going to counter the terrible tone problems in DRAGNET. It goes from stupid-silly to uncomfortably serious in a matter of seconds, without batting an eye. If this is one you look back on fondly, you might be better off leaving it in the past.
Video: I wore out my VHS copy of DRAGNET years ago, so this is easily the best looking transfer I’ve ever seen of the film. It’s a high quality transfer for such an old film. Yes, there’s some grain and yes, there are some shots that didn’t get transferred properly, but overall the film looks fine.
Audio: The 2.0 audio transfer is effective for what it is.
Commentary by Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball: Dyball was an odd choice since he has nothing to do with the film, but he does know a lot about DRAGNET. I wasn’t a huge fan of the commentary mainly because he couldn’t offer deep insight into the film, but he gives some interesting facts, mainly geared towards hardcore DRAGNET fans.
A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail (25:02): Swail was apparently the only one willing to participate in the special features and as such, she gets her own featurette. She offers what information she has, but again, it would have been nice to hear from some of the bigger players.
Just The Facts (46:00): Hanks and Aykroyd host an old promotional featurette for the film.