A few months ago I saw an interview with a retired cop where he said that he always discouraged prospective officers from trying to join the police force. He said that it was a very frustrating job because whether or not you are trying to serve your community with noble intentions everywhere you go you are greeted with hostility. What he was saying made a lot of sense to me: there are a lot of cops out there who really are trying to perform a valuable service, but if the cops appear they can't help but bring bad vibes with them; if they appear because you called them, it's because something bad has happened, and if they appear when you haven't called them you have to deal with a vague dread that something shitty like a ticket or an extended hassling is imminent until they leave. And I saw that interview before the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri gave all cops a black eye; now his suggestion that people who want to be helpful just become firemen instead seems even more true.
I was thinking about what that cop was saying as I was watching Police Academy, because that interview really underscored for me how hard being a good police officer is, and how important it that cops take their jobs seriously even though their jobs are both difficult and thankless. When I saw the opening text announce that "no longer would height, weight, sex, education or physical strength be used to keep new recruits out of the Metropolitan Police Academy", I thought: well, that's obviously a terrible idea. I wasn't even a minute into this movie and already I realized that I wasn't going to find a lot of humor in it's "slobs, misfits and fuck-ups try to get a badge and a gun" premise because it's obviously a bad idea to have no criteria on who can and cannot be a cop.
And in case I sound humorless because I judged this goofy comedy so seriously so quickly, re-read that list again. It's throwing in "race" and "sex" along with "physical strength" as if those things have equal bearing on being a cop. Even though it's aiming to be lowest common denominator comedy (as long as that lowest common denominator is a white heterosexual male) it's fair to view this movie from a stern perspective because the political element of Police Academy is barely buried under the surface. This movie is constantly suggesting that women, Jews, and all non-whites are inept intruders who aren't fit for police work but are getting put on the force anyway because the people that call the shots have lost all of their common sense. I suppose I could forgive it's false premise where all of these worthless nutjobs are encouraged to apply for a badge if it at least had the dignity to treat that premise fairly, but stipulating that the higher ups are allowed to encourage people to leave the academy but are not allowed to kick anyone out is obviously creating a straw man which is completely unrealistic. No one has ever said that the truly incompetent or evil should be allowed on the force, so mixing in undisciplined nitwits in with say women (or any other group that could legitimately do the work well) is crass.
The people who made this movie probably thought that they were doing what Revenge of the Nerds was doing; both films sprinkle risque jokes into a broad story about outcasts coming together to earn their place in the world. But there's something much more rancid at Police Academy's core, because there are absolutely no bad consequences if frat boys throw a poorly attended party, but there are a lot of bad consequences to giving someone a gun if they aren't psychologically prepared for that responsibility. This film ends in a riot that starts in the black section of town over a single poorly tossed apple (have I mentioned how racist this film is?) and it reminded me of the Rodney King riots, which is an unfortunate association to make in a "comedy" about cops. Sometimes when I see a cop car pull up next to me in traffic I'll feel a little bad about my nervous side-eying of them; I know that they probably don't deserve that mistrust. But Police Academy? This is a film that totally earns it's disrespect.
Winner: The Cat