Combat Academy

During my intense POLICE ACADEMY research I learned that 2 years after part 1, story writer Neal Israel directed a movie called COMBAT ACADEMY. I don’t know if you can tell by just glancing at that title, but according to my calculations POLICE ACADEMY and COMBAT ACADEMY share one word and have the same syllable count. The cover uses the same font from the POLICE ACADEMY posters (and internal documents within the movies – look for that) and also the same sort of Mad Magazine style realistic painting of characters cartoonishly crowded together doing wacky things. I’m not sure if it’s an actual Drew Struzan, but if not it’s obviously based on that style. And Robert Folk did the music.

So I was kinda hoping this failed project would be a total knockoff, the same formula transported to a military academy. Maybe instead of a sound effects guy there would be a guy that does celebrity impressions, instead of a lady with big boobs there would be one with a really good ass, instead of a gun nut there’s a guy who loves fighter jets. I don’t know.

Sadly it’s not really that much like POLICE ACADEMY. It’s a more normal teen movie about two nerds who get into trouble for their crazy pranks, have to go to a military school, try to get kicked out, instead there’s relationships, etc.

Please note that there's no hot girl character in the movie, just a real buttoned-down one. This is one of those INFERNAL AFFAIRS type posters.

The lead nerd is Max Mendelsson, played by Brian De Palma regular Keith Gordon. He’s supposed to be sort of a Ferris Bueller popular-non-conformist type guy who wears a different type of coat from the other kids and talks faster than they can think and takes nothing seriously and can pull of anything he wants. Along with his stuttering best friend Perry (Wallace Langham, who plays Saul Bass in an upcoming movie about Hitchcock) he makes a checklist of all the crazy pranks he’s gonna do on the school and then sit back and smiles during a montage of shenanigans.

One of their main jokes is to set a bunch of explosives in people’s lockers. This sort of thing is frowned upon in the modern day. Those Columbine assholes had to ruin everything.

Everything except the hilarity of animals. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but in movies of the ’80s the ultimate prank was to have some animals in a place. Because why would some animals be in that place? That’s why it’s funny. In this case he puts a bunch of goats in the school. And then when the principal (Dick Van Patten) wants to fill out a form to suspend them he opens his desk and birds fly out! Pranked! Birds aren’t supposed to be in a drawer!

I do have to say it was kind of funny that the sign for the women’s restroom was attached to the door of the principal’s office. That was a pretty decent one.

It’s not the principal but a judge (Sherman Hemsley) who sentences them to military school. They get in trouble just because they pose as city officials and berate some construction workers into drilling on the wrong side of the street, causing thousands of dollars of tax-payer-funded damage and possibly making innocent workers lose their jobs. Can’t these people take a joke?

Max is obviously supposed to be sort of a Bugs Bunny or Mahoney type of lovable scoundrel (he even uses a Bugs Bunny reference as a walkie-talkie code name), but he’s such an arrogant dick I hated him from the beginning and wanted the jerks at the academy to stomp his face in. He’s always trying to show that he’s smarter than everybody else, and sometimes has good wisecracks but sometimes just really terrible insults that only a little kid would think was harsh, like “and while you’re at it, buy yourself a personality” to a guy that he just met and doesn’t know anything about his personality or lack thereof.

His roommate and superior is Major Biff Woods, played by 25-year-old Facts of Life star George Clooney. He’s trying to be a reasonable guy but is under alot of pressure from his father, the asshole head of the school (Robert Culp). Max refuses to follow any of the protocol and needles Biff until he finally challenges him to a fight. Max of course doesn’t stand a chance so he goes the comedy route, he makes a bunch of corny Rambo references and then runs around avoiding contact like Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler. Eventually he tries to offer friendship to Biff and says they should get a beer together. I don’t think I was supposed to be yelling “PUNCH HIM!” like the bullies on the sidelines, but I was, and I got my wish.

Perry isn’t that much more likable than Max. He’s the one who’s embarrassed by dickishness and tries to get out of it, but he’s so defined by his stuttering and shyness that he doesn’t seem to have much else to his personality. And it’s not clear if he’s even contributing anything to the pranks he’s getting in trouble for. He just seems to be the timid best friend who stands next to Max when he mouths off to everybody.

What surprised me about the movie is that Clooney is actually pretty good in it, and in a similar way to how he’s good now. It’s actually a complex character compared to the other things I’ve seen him in from the ’80s. I don’t think you’re supposed to recognize that he’s in the right the whole time, but they do turn him into an intentionally sympathetic character in the second half of the movie, and Max becomes much more likable when he starts being nice to him. Also when he tries to make Dana Hill (EUROPEAN VACATION) feel good about herself even though she’s never kissed a boy and doesn’t have a shot with the asshole she has a crush on.

The cast also includes Jamie Farr, Bernie Kopell, Richard Moll and John Ratzenberger. It reminded me of one of those TV movies like the one where Michael J. Fox was at summer camp and it has all the people that were on the NBC shows at the time or whatever. And that’s because that’s what this was, I guess – it was made for TV, at least. Which explains the lack of boobs, or at least mooning.

Oh well, at least it ends with a message of peace during the Cold War and the Rambo years. And if you were real bored one day and it came on cable it might pass the time okay. But just as an army should not deliberately seek out a war, you should not look for COMBAT ACADEMY.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 5th, 2012 at 12:14 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Combat Academy”

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if COMBAT ACADEMY wasn’t the movie’s name, until someone noticed how well POLICE ACADEMY did at the box office.
    (That happened a lot in Germany, where suddenly every new comedy got an Academy title. Even CRIMEWAVE was released as THE KILLER ACADEMY over here. Damn us Germans. First DJANGO, then POLICE ACADEMY.)

  2. This one time in high school I offered to play jugs in a one-off rock band for a Battle of the Bands talent show thing, and the event was being held in the gymnasium, so the holding area for the bands was the boys’ locker room, stage left, easy access.

    So there’s a bunch of girls & guys in the boys locker room, which extends to a bathroom area, which is where the girls would go to touch up their makeup & etc. And I got this brilliant idea that I should get my classmate’s mini-super-soaker (which had been confiscated the day before by the gym teacher, so I had to break into his locker room-adjacent office to get it, and then furtively used water from one of my musical jugs to fill it), then go pretend to use the urinal, like, 10 feet behind where the girls were prettying up themselves in the mirror, and I’d be all exaggerated like Austin Powers coming out of cryosleep, orgasmically emptying my bladder, and then when the girls got freaked out because there’s a boy peeing right next to them, I’d pretend I had just noticed them for the first time and I’d accidentally whip around and squirt them with the water gun from my crotchal area.

    The point is, the “prank” didn’t go over very well, there were complaints & social shunnings for a young Mouth for a couple months, the girls lacked the sense of humor I required for the desired effect, and to this day one or 2 of them might still wrongly believe I was actually urinating in their presence and possibly projectile-peeing at them with my water gun, but if I had been in a shitty mid-1980s comedy I bet I would have launched George Clooney’s career.

  3. Every single movie made in the eighties should have come with a disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS SHIT AT HOME, YOU WILL LOOK LIKE A JACKASS.

  4. Or arrested for sexual assault.

  5. CJ – when the RENO: 911 movie came out in japan, it was released as POLICE BAKADEMY, “baka” being a japanese word menaing “stupid” or “idiotic.” it’s a pun, you see!

    i think it’s kind of amazing that that long after the police academy series ended, it still had enough cache in japan to lead the distributors here to think that the suggestion of it in the reno: 911 title would increase business.

    in fact, now that i think of it, last year on network tv in japan, for the movie of the day one week they played the police academy series from parts 1 through 5.

    guess the series is UNIVERSALLY LOVED

  6. I’ve never been a huge fan of translated movie titles, but in the 70’s and 80’s they were everywhere here in Norway. And when it came to comedies there were two main choices; HELP… (like in HELP, WE’RE GOING ON VACATION instead of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION) and SCHOOL…(like in POLICE SCHOOL instead of POLICE ACADEMY).

  7. I remember another one of these rip-offs called Stewardess School, which is essentially Police Academy with, well, stewardesses. As a kid, I thought parts of it were hilarious. They probably weren’t, but I haven’t re-watched it since, so who knows? Sandahl Bergman is in it, though I can’t recall if she’s the one who blocks a hole in the plane’s hull with her butt, in-flight.

  8. There is this one movie CAREER OPPORTUNITIES, with Jennifer Connelly. I guess because it’s written by John Hughes, is about some teenagers who spend the night all alone in a supermarket and features two stupid criminals (like every John Hughes movie post HOME ALONE), it was called in Germany “Kevin’s Cousin Alone At The Supermarket”.

    Some forgettable teenie comedies from the last decade also got “Pie” names, to make them look like AMERICAN PIE sequels or spin offs.

    Whenever something like this happens, I’m always 50% amused and 50% angry, even if those movies and their name changes are most of the time not even targeted at me.

  9. Two other 80’s comedies that got clamped together with Police Academy were Bad Medicine with The Gut himself and my personal favorite Young Doctors In Love, which is still funny as hell. Mostly because of Harry Dean Stanton of all people. Thjey were both called something with School in my part of the world.

  10. BAD MEDICINE got half of a POLICE ACADEMY treatment over here, by getting the subtitle “Dümmer als der Arzt erlaubt” (“Dumber than the doctor allows”), which was obviously a play on PA’s German subtitle “Dümmer als die Polizei erlaubt”(“Dumber than the police allows”), which is also a popular saying over here.

  11. A fellow from Korea once told me that the Home Alone movies are so popular over there that they have entered the lexicon as an idiom. If a Korean decides to stay in on Christmas Day, they’ll tell their family and friends that they are “Hanging out with Kevin.” I thought this was a wonderful expression when I heard it. And it’s a lot better than “I’m fashioning a noose and contemplating suicide.”

  12. CJ; “I wouldn’t be surprised if COMBAT ACADEMY wasn’t the movie’s name.”

    It isn’t. The original title is Combat High.

  13. Whoa, I guess ABC’s “Camp Cucamunga” was a conceptual ripoff of the Michael J Fox summer camp TV movie. You learn something new every day.

  14. My favorite movie translated for overseas ever is still ARMY OF DARKNESS released over in Japan as CAPTAIN SUPERMARKET. You can even find the Japanese AOD poster online where Ash is standing on top of a can of Campbell soup. (Get it?) Shit that title is better than ARMY OF DARKNESS in my opinion. Good job Japan.

    RBatty – You might be right. I seem to remember an interview from the mid-90s with John Hughes that got republished/reported after he died, and he was bragging about the incredible foreign success of HOME ALONE in Turkey and Asia and so forth. Of course he also bragged about BABY’S DAY OUT being a blockbuster in India which is where it lost me, but still I wouldn’t be shocked.

  15. While we’re stuck on the lighter side of the ’80s:

    Vern, review THE GOLDEN CHILD.

  16. caruso_stalker217

    July 7th, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Yes, do.

  17. Yes, Eddie Murphy gets belittled both by Tywin Lannister and Egg Shen.

  18. tidbits that only people like us would care about about THE GOLDEN CHILD

    Production details

    Although the character of The Golden Child is portrayed and treated as a boy throughout the movie, the part was played by actress Jasmine Reate (credited as “J.L. Reate” ).[4]

    John Carpenter was originally scheduled to direct the film, but dropped out and would later direct Big Trouble in Little China,[4] a film with similar Chinese mysticism themes (Chinese American actors Victor Wong and Peter Kwong star in both films).[5] Starring Kurt Russell, Carpenter’s project was reported to have been rushed through post-production to ensure a premiere date that preceded the Golden Child.[citation needed]

    Actor Mel Gibson was originally selected to play the role of Chandler Jarrell; but when Gibson was unavailable, the producers selected Murphy and transformed the movie from a serious adventure drama into a comedy.[4]

    Gene LeBell makes a small cameo appearance as a drunk member of the “Yellow Dragons” biker gang.


  19. caruso_stalker217

    July 8th, 2012 at 1:27 am

    James Hong is also in both films and even dubs Victor Wong’s voice in one scene for some goddamn reason.

  20. Mime Academy. I don’t know about the main plot, but I know that part of the hijinks/bonding second act is a night of hazing in the form of getting dropped off in a bad neighborhood and having to mime their way out.

    Also, I think that D.C. Cab, which predates Police Academy and moreover is cashing in on Taxi, nonetheless shares Police Academy and its imitators’ ensemble of eclectic eccentrics approach to comedy. Individual results vary but, conceptually, I enjoy that idea. I’m an atheist, but I think Jesus* would like those kind of movies. He’d love seeing groups of people, especially strangers, misfits, and people of different cultures, coming together and saving Average Joe’s Gym or the rec center or whatever. I think laughter is an essential part of human nature, and laughing at human foibles is good for the soul.

    * I also think that Jesus would like Hustle & Flow.

  21. You’ve hit the nail on the head. With the title COMBAT ACADEMY we go in expecting a zanier movie than what we get.

    It’s hard to tell who the key writer was in the “cool witty hero with group of eccentric friends versus the bullies” genre of the mid-1980s, like POLICE ACADEMY and BACHELOR PARTY. Neal Israel seems like a possible candidate because he also had a hand in MOVING VIOLATIONS and REAL GENIUS, which fit the category. But he also did this movie and SURF NINJAS, which don’t quite live up to the style (although I’m still a fan of SURF NINJAS). Pat Proft is another possiblity; he wrote with Israel on POLICE ACADEMY, BACHELOR PARTY, MOVING VIOLATINGS, and REAL GENIUS.

    Someday I want to make ACADEMY ACADEMY, a meta “academy movie” about a group of underdogs who have to complete an academy movie or get thrown out of film school. Followed by the ultimate “Canadian balls comedy” and 1980s ski comedy, SNOWBALLS.

    What would be a good third thing to complete the trilogy? Some kind of CANNONBALL RUN movie? A pretty good version of that already exists as SPEED ZONE, the sequel studded with Canadian comedy stars. To keep the ball in the air, you’d have to add a David Cronenberg element. Or, a late-1980s father-son body-swapping movie, but taken to the next level. Or, if we wanted to set the bar impossibly high, a Zucker-type parody of Zucker-type parodies. Who’s the Generation X Leslie Nielsen?

    I can’t remember if I disliked the main character of COMBAT ACADEMY but I know the phenomenon you’re talking about where the hero just seems like an asshole. I’ve definitely had that experience with some movies. Also some cartoon characters.

    There was a Michael J. Fox movie called HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. where the gimmick was that the teenagers were from then-current sitcoms, and the parents and teachers were played by former teen sitcom actors, from shows like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and DOBIE GILLIS. They remade it a year later as a pilot for a TV series, almost the same as before but not as good.

    CEPE: My guess would be that the character who blocks the hole in STEWARDESS SCHOOL was Wendy Jo Sperber’s character, since there was a visual gag about her weight in the movie where she broke the inflatable emergency exit thing.

    RRA: The title CAPTAIN SUPERMARKET runs the risk of spoiling a great surprise moment at the end. That moment took me completely by surprise (at the time I was unaware that ARMY OF DARKNESS was even a sequel!).

  22. I look forward to ACADEMY ACADEMY. Sounds great!

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