Home > Reviews > THE NAKED GUN 2½: THE SMELL OF FEAR – Ira Newborn

THE NAKED GUN 2½: THE SMELL OF FEAR – Ira Newborn

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A sequel to the hilarious 1988 original, which was itself a spin-off of the brilliant but short-lived comedy TV show Police Squad, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear sees Leslie Nielsen returning to one of his all-time great roles as the inept LAPD detective Frank Drebin. The plot – which involves a group of crooked energy executives kidnapping an eminent professor and replacing him with an evil lookalike who will recommend to President George HW Bush that he continue with a fossil fuel-based energy plan – is simply a flimsy framing device on which to hang all manner of goofy one-liners, ridiculous sight gags, and hilarious pratfalls, all centered around Nielsen’s unique brand of comedy. He is ably supported by Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, and O. J. Simpson returning from the first film, as well as Robert Goulet and Richard Griffiths in new roles. These movies, as well as previous Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker productions like Airplane, are some of my all-time favorite comedies.

Another popular element of the Naked Gun movies was its score, by composer Ira Newborn. In the 1980s and early 1990s Newborn enjoyed a series of successes scoring popular theatrical comedies such as Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Dragnet, Uncle Buck, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but for my money his work on the Naked Gun franchise is his best. The whole thing is anchored by a wonderfully upbeat, brassy, jazz and blues-inspired main title theme, which acted as the main theme for Police Squad, and followed Drebin from the small screen to the big screen when the Naked Gun premiered. The music itself is a spoof of the music from the hard-boiled TV detective shows that inspired the movie – Dragnet, Mission: Impossible, M-Squad, things like that – which famously included music by jazz legends like Sonny Burke and Count Basie, as well as film composers ranging from Lalo Schifrin to Jerry Goldsmith and beyond, and Newborn’s intelligent and serious emulation of their style is what helps the jokes to land.

The score for The Naked Gun 2½ was originally released in 1991 by Varese Sarabande as a 2-for-1 package with music from the first Naked Gun film, which had not originally had a soundtrack album when the film came out in 1988. There were nine cues from The Naked Gun 2½ on this album, totaling just over 21 minutes of the album’s 36 minute running time. It opens with a bang with “Drebin – Hero!”, a tremendous heroic fanfare which Newborn says was inspired by those Douglas Fairbanks swashbucklers from the 1930s, but is really just a superb explosion of rousing Americana led by a bold brass melody.

“There’s Been a Bombing” is a lounge arrangement of the main theme, with a brief statement of the first film’s love theme for Drebin and Priscilla Presley’s character, Jane, towards the end. “Bad Boys and Meinheimers” introduces the villainous theme for Robert Goulet’s character – the oily, insidious Quentin Hapsburg – and has a thriller/suspense tone, and is full of elongated string sustains, staccato brass, and nervous ticking percussion sounds, which add a level of sinister tension to the Meinheimer kidnap plot and the energy industry executives involved in the scheme.

“Hey, Look at These” has a romantic, sultry vibe, and includes an iconic saxophone element which was clearly inspired by scores like John Barry’s Body Heat. This transitions into “Thinking of… Him!,” a wonderful and genuinely beautiful spoof of Alex North’s Unchained Melody, which underscores this film’s hilarious parody of the famous Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze potter’s wheel scene from Ghost. The subsequent “The Date” is a jazzy and romantic variation on the Drebin & Jane love theme, led again by a saxophone.

“Roof, Roof!!” is the score’s main action sequence, in which Frank has to evade a pack of vicious Doberman guard dogs while breaking into Hapsburg’s warehouse. Newborn was not known for his intense action writing, but there is some good stuff here, and it all follows the Elmer Bernstein methodology of writing completely serious music in order to sell the comedy. Newborn bases the sequence around a series of Jerry Goldsmith-style staccato percussion hits, syncopated meters with roots in jazz, around which he layers various overlapping string runs and brass outbursts. Towards the end of the cue Newborn introduces a darker and more serious version of the Drebin Hero theme, confirming that the score does maintain some appropriate thematic consistency. Some of the brass writing actually reminds me of Michael Kamen’s work on the Lethal Weapon series, while the string writing is vibrant and fast paced. Hearing this makes me wonder what Newborn could have done with a serious action thriller – looking at his filmography through the rest of the 1990s the closest he ever came was the 1992 John Landis horror comedy Innocent Blood, which is a real shame and a clear missed opportunity.

The climactic “I Want a World” underscores Frank’s final inspirational and pro-environmental speech at the White House (‘I want a world where Frank Junior and all the Frank Juniors can sit under a shade tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-Eleven without an interpreter! I want a world where I can eat a sea otter without getting sick!’) with a soaring, inspirational, fully orchestral combination of the Drebin & Jane love theme and the main title theme. This then segues into the superb “End Credits” piece, which encompasses a series of excellent jazzy variations on the main theme, including one sequence of terrific improvisations by trumpeter David Stahl.

For more than 20 years, until 2014 , these scant thirty minutes were the only available music from the entire Naked Gun series. This oversight was rectified by La-La Land Records and producers Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk, who released a superb 3-CD set of all three Naked Gun score, including the premiere release of the music from the third film, 1994’s Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult. In terms of Naked Gun 2½, the expansion increased the amount of available music to almost an hour, and includes the entire score plus a number of source music cues and songs, presented in a handsome package featuring detailed liner notes by Daniel Schweiger.

The expansion is essentially a series of variations on the core elements heard in the score, but some cues stand out. The B-Phrase of the main theme gets an extended workout in “We Got Work to Do,” there’s an extended statement of the Drebin & Jane love theme in “A Raisin Nutbread,” and there are several additional moments of superb tension, suspense, and action. “Nordberg Plants the Bug” and “His Water Broke” are really quite thrilling – listen to those brass triplets! – while “Jane Stalker” is clearly and intentionally Herrmannesque. Later, Hapsburg’s villain theme gets a longer examination in “Frank Moves In/Frank’s Bust Is Busted,” “Hotel Sting” leans heavily into Lalo Schifrin, and the conclusive sequence that comprises “Introducing Dr. Meinheimer/He Can Walk/I’m Tired of Being the Sting King/We’ll See About This” and “Staying Here With You/A Real Bomb” increases the stakes with a series of bold, energetic strokes, which has some echoes of Basil Poledouris in its percussive makeup. However, for me, the best action moment comes in the brilliantly militaristic “Frank Tank,” which underscores the chaotic chase around the city, and ends with Drebin driving his SWAT vehicle into a fireworks store, accompanied by a bold fanfare reprise of the Drebin Hero theme. Please disperse! Nothing to see here!

If you’re as much a fan of the Naked Gun movies as I am, you’ll want to pick up these scores immediately as a superb souvenir, but I feel I have to make a point of saying that, despite the silliness of films themselves, Newborn’s music is genuinely excellent and sophisticated. The jazzy main title theme is a classic, and the romantic writing for Frank and Jane is lovely, but what impressed me most was the quality of the action writing. Newborn’s music for the bombastic comedy set pieces is surprisingly intense and exciting, with some notably complex rhythms and clever interplay between different elements of the orchestra. The 3-CD La-La Land album is clearly the best representation of the music, but the original 30-minute Varese version hits the spot too for those not willing to shell out the $35.00 price tag. Just be careful not to mix it up with your order for the Model D83 Swedish sure-grip suck machine – it’s some kind of bust!

Buy the Naked Gun 2½: soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • ORIGINAL RELEASE
  • Drebin – Hero! (1:03)
  • There’s Been a Bombing (0:47)
  • Bad Boys and Meinheimers (2:44)
  • Hey, Look at These (0:44)
  • Thinking of … Him! (2:33)
  • The Date (0:56)
  • Roof, Roof!! (4:14)
  • I Want a World (1:47)
  • End Credits (4:32)
  • EXPANDED RELEASE
  • Drebin – Hero!/Main Title (3:06)
  • Thinking of… Him!/There’s Been a Bombing (3:19)
  • Hey Look at These/We Don’t Have Any Kids/Transition to Blue Note Bar (1:54)
  • Transition to Wharf/Bad Boys and Meinheimers (2:48)
  • We Got Work to Do/Nordberg Plants the Bug (2:24)
  • Frank Tank/Trumpet Fanfare (1:40)
  • The Date/Ba Ba Ba Again (1:06)
  • Jane Stalker (1:30)
  • His Water Broke (1:46)
  • A Raisin Nutbread/Hexagon Oil Sting/Frank Swims in Sewage (0:56)
  • Frank Moves In/Frank’s Bust Is Busted (3:34)
  • Hotel Sting/Hapsburg Moves on Jane (1:37)
  • Introducing Dr. Meinheimer/He Can Walk/I’m Tired of Being the Sting King/We’ll See About This (2:36)
  • Roof, Roof! (4:15)
  • Staying Here With You/A Real Bomb (1:18)
  • Intro to Ozone Layer/I Want a World/End Credits (6:30)
  • Celebrated Minuet (written by Luigi Boccherini) (0:54) BONUS
  • Hail to the Chief (traditional, arr. Don Nemitz) (1:19) BONUS
  • I Guess I’m Just Screwed (written by Ira Newborn, David Zucker, and Robert LoCash, performed by Colleen Fitzpatrick) (1:46) BONUS
  • I Should Have Been an Accountant [Piano Version] (1:19) BONUS
  • Endzone Layer (1:49) BONUS
  • Ye Olde Sex Shoppe (1:20) BONUS
  • I Should Have Been an Accountant [Dance Band Version] (0:59) BONUS
  • Tangerine (written by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer) (1:46) BONUS
  • Satin Doll (written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn) (1:41) BONUS
  • Lifespan (written by Nikki Bernard) (0:32) BONUS
  • Tommy Two Tails (0:49) BONUS
  • Besame Mucho (written by Consuelo Velazquez and Sunny Skyler, performed very badly by Leslie Nielsen) (1:31) BONUS

Running Time: 21 minutes 22 seconds – Original
Running Time: 57 minutes 31 seconds – Expanded

Varese Sarabande VSD-5331 (1991) – Original
La-La Land LLLCD-1303 (1991/2014) – Expanded

Music composed by Ira Newborn. Conducted by Ira Newborn and Alf Clausen. Orchestrations by Ira Newborn, Victor Sagerquist and Don Nemitz. Recorded and mixed by Gary Ladinsky. Edited by Jeff Carson. Score produced by Ira Newborn. Original album produced by Robert Townson. Expanded album produced by Dan Goldwasser, Neil S. Bulk, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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