Dragnet is perhaps the most iconic and influential police procedural drama in the history of television and radio. Despite starting 65 years ago this year, the show’s cultural impact still resonates today – with almost all police shows and films owing a lot to it. But in 1987, a strange choice was made. Dragnet, a crime drama, would make another in a line of leaps to the big screen – but this time, as a comedy.
Despite being narratively tied in with the original series – Dan Aykroyd’s Joe Friday is the nephew of the original series’ hero, and Harry Morgan briefly reprises his role as Bill Gannon – this Dragnet is more of a spoof sharing very little with previous incarnations.
Dragnet’s plot is really your basic run-of-the-mill ‘mismatched partners’ buddy comedy. Like Starsky & Hutch, our heroes contrast in their working style. Joe Friday (Aykroyd) is a stiff straight-laced detective, while his new partner Pep (Tom Hanks) has a slightly more unorthodox approach to police work. Of course, the two struggle to work together at first, but must throw their differences aside when they’re tasked with solving a mystery involving televangelist Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer).
Aykroyd is at the top of his game playing the straight-man and co-writing the occasionally-witty screenplay with Alan Zweibel and Tom Mankiewicz, while the young fresh-faced Tom Hanks plays it fast-and-loose many years before he had to contend with WWII’s Normandy invasion, Somali pirates, and being stranded on an island with a blood-stained volleyball. But Dragnet is very much a product of its time, with zany comedy and general 1980s-isms filling every scene. While hilarious 30 years ago, maybe now it’s starting to sour.
Unfortunately, Dragnet just hasn’t aged that well. Despite a swanky new Blu-ray release, Dragnet’s plot and premise feel tired, a lot of the jokes have dried up and the general TV-to-cinema reboot has been done many times since – and better. There are still a few laughs here but, on the whole, this is one that hasn’t gotten better with age.