I just watched The Naked Gun on Netflix today, and I had forgotten how awesome of a movie that is.
Sometimes movies trick you. There have been plenty of movies that I thought were fantastically awesome when I was younger, and then I go back and watch them and I realize how dated and mediocre they were. Sure, some are a product of their times--humor changes, after all--but an alarming number of movies really don't stand the test of time. Dramas aren't affected quite so much, of course, but a lot of action flicks and comedies are barely watchable anymore. Some survive on nostalgia, some on good acting, and some on clever writing, but a lot of successful movies benefited from the moviegoing landscape at the time.
Anyway, it's sometimes difficult to remember the path that The Naked Gun took. The ZAZ team (David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) had a hit with Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie, and were given a chance at a TV show (Police Squad!) When the series failed, they somehow managed to convince a movie studio that it would work better as a film--and it did. (Actually, no--the TV show was pretty awesome, too.)
The ZAZ team had a reasonably short era of success. Along with KFM, Airplane! and The Naked Gun, they also teamed up on Top Secret, a highly underrated sister film to the others (parodying spy and Elvis films--just see it). Ruthless People was also done by them but it's a clear departure from the outright parody.
Sadly, the movies they did separately are far less awesome. The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and Hot Shots! were both pretty good, and most of the Scary Movie franchise is decent (except 2, of course) but the rest...not so much. It also ushered in a long, horrible string of poorly-written "parody" movies in the same vein (many of which starred Leslie Nielsen). This slowly, then, degenerated into the string of Date Movie-style films that have neither the wit nor the charm of the original ZAZ movies, even if the jokes and parodies make sense in a logical, non-funny sense.
Anyway, watching The Naked Gun reminded me of how clever it was. It doesn't really look dated--Jane's hairstyle is about the only remnant from 1988 you can really see--and the jokes--even though you already know them--still work. The entire last third of the movie at the baseball game is just about perfection as far as writing is concerned. It has everything: the usual rockbed of farce, the exaggerated parody of baseball cliches, some slapstick thrown in, callbacks to earlier references in the movie, and some good old fashioned solid writing. The movie isn't perfect, and once you see a lot of the gags it loses some of its charm, but I was surprised as to how well it held up.