Dragnet tries very hard to parody its 1950s TV series progenitor but winds up more innocuous than inventive. Dan Aykroyd as Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday gives the role his best but confines of the ultra-straight cop make humor difficult to sustain. Unfettered by such limits, Tom Hanks becomes the pic’s winning wildcard as Friday’s zany sidekick, Pep Streebek.
Inevitably, Friday and Streebek must pursue a case. It is here that the pic starts unraveling rapidly – largely due to exaggerated caricatures that recall TV’s Batman series and the feature film Superman outings. Christopher Plummer is the kinkiest of the lot as televangelist Reverend Whirley. He considers LA the ‘current capital of depravity’, heads up MAMA (Moral Advanced Movement of America) but secretly leads a cultist outfit called PAGANs (People Against Goodness And Normalcy).
Whirley is somehow allied with Police Commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick (Elizabeth Ashley) and is purportedly at odds with Bait sex magazine kingpin Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman). Friday and Streebek plunge into the bizarre goings-on by posing undercover as street freaks.
Script doesn’t make enough of the opportunities for interplay that used to be a mainstay between Webb and Harry Morgan, who reprises the part here in a nice touch that finds him elevated to captain.