There isn’t one single successful movie franchise that writers and Hollywood studios haven’t considered rebooting at some point in the past decade. It doesn’t matter if the original stars are dead or there’s no apparent reason to add to or re-interpret the source material; so long as there’s a potential for money to be made and at least some evidence that an audience will come to watch it, someone is always willing to take a chance on it. That’s why we got a new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie that we probably didn’t want. It’s also why there are new ‘Star Wars’ movies every six months. Just from those two examples alone, you can some reboot ideas work better than others.
One series of films that ought to be impossible to remake or otherwise interfere with is the ‘Naked Gun’ franchise – itself a spinoff from the ‘Police Squad’ comedy series that’s now considered a cult classic but was canceled after a mere six episodes in the early 1980s. ‘Naked Gun’ was little more than a vehicle for the incredible comedic talents of Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin, and imagining someone other than Nielsen as Drebin is difficult. Despite that glaringly obvious fact, a reboot was ordered several years ago – and by now, we ought to have seen it.
To understand why someone would want to reboot ‘Naked Gun,’ we have to look at the unique appeal of the movies. They were made in a slapstick style that was dated by the early 1990s but appealed to a family audience, and have stood the test of time even as styles have changed. As the genre was already passe when the first movie was made in 1988, it hasn’t aged as badly as some of the other comedy films made at around the same time have. As a demonstration of its continuing appeal, ‘The Naked Gun’ is still a popular online slots game at many UK slots site. There are many different online slots based on movies, but the majority of them are based on major blockbusters. The reputation of ‘Naked Gun’ has grown over time, and that’s why an online slots game released in the 21st century based on a cult comedy made in the late 20th century has been such a hit.
Word first spread about a potential new ‘Naked Gun’ film in 2013, when Paramount Pictures confirmed that they were financing the project, and they’d already secured Ed Helms to step into the shoes of Nielsen, who’d died three years earlier. Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon had agreed to write a screenplay together, and at the time, it was intended to be a sequel rather than a reboot. How a sequel could possibly work when Ed Helms was younger in 2013 than Nielson was even when he played the character of Frank Drebin on television was never explained. Nothing more was heard on the matter until 2015, when original ‘Police Squad’ writer David Zucker confirmed that he’d been told it was now a reboot as opposed to a sequel. Even back then, he expressed reservations about the idea of Helms in the lead role. Nielsen worked so well as a ‘straight man’ for the original film’s slapstick elements because he was known as a serious actor as opposed to a comedian. Helms has always been known as a comedian.
By 2017, without any further news emerging about the status or fate of the new Paramount film, David Zucker himself confirmed that he’s started to write a fourth ‘Naked Gun’ script of his own. Instead of recasting the iconic lead role, his story would focus on Frank Drebin’s son. He didn’t mention at the time that he had backing from a studio – or even any interest from one – but it would be fair to presume that he wouldn’t have started writing the script if he didn’t have a destination in mind for it. Whether through the Paramount project or through Zucker, it was clear that something was coming.
It’s now 2020, and we still don’t have a new ‘Naked Gun’ film. Working out precisely what went wrong is difficult, but reading between the lines the Helms-led Paramount project might have died in 2015, when the actor spoke to Yahoo and said that the film was trapped within Hollywood’s ‘grinding gears,’ which is another way of saying that it had becomes mired in development Hell. Projects can get trapped for years in that process, and some of them never make it out of the other side at all. Helms has never spoken about the project since, and it’s hugely unlikely that any contracts signed in 2013 would still be valid today when it comes to making the film. It’s safe to say that Helms is no longer attached to the production, and the production itself was probably quietly written off a few years ago.
There may still be some light at the end of the tunnel, though. The last word we have from anyone on the matter is from David Zucker in 2018. Although he’s in his early 70s now, Zucker is still very much active in the entertainment business and is still writing screenplays – and that fourth ‘Naked Gun’ film he promised is one of them. In another interview that was given to Yahoo, Zucker confirmed in December of that year – a little over eighteen months ago – that his project was still going ahead as far as he understood it, and that he’d like Bill Hader to play Drebin’s son in the movie. At the same time, he confirmed some basic details of the plot, which involves a Russian crime lord attempting to kill Drebin’s surviving family in vengeance for some past transgression. The character of Jane is mentioned, and so that could mean that Priscilla Presley has already been approached to reprise her role from the previous trilogy of films.
Slapstick is a timeless form of comedy and is no more or less fashionable now than it was thirty years ago, so if it worked then it could work again now. Whether fans of ‘Police Squad’ or ‘The Naked Gun’ would be enthused about a movie being made without Leslie Nielsen is a different matter entirely, but the only way to find that out is to make one and see if they come. That’s what Zucker intends to do – and as far as we’re aware, he’s still trying.