I Knew Leslie Nielsen. Leslie Nielsen Was a Friend of Mine. Ed Helms, You're No Leslie Nielsen.
I consider the The Naked Gun trilogy to be one of the finest achievements in the history of comedy. Very few movies, let alone three of them, could take such simple, straightforward humor and use it to mock genres without an accompanying feeling of laziness. It feels like you could've written every joke, but the way they're organized and delivered is a thing of beauty. So imagine how shitty my Friday became when this news broke.
Now, I've got nothing in particular against Ed Helms. Loved him in Cedar Rapids and The Hangover, hated him in nearly everything else. Didn't see Jeff, Who Lives at Home because of that annoying comma. For the most part, he's harmless.
To be a part of this treason, however, is deplorable. Ed Helms is a mild-manner simpleton, a Midwestern hayseed with a dash of lovable charm. You feel for his plights and want him to overcome surmountable odds. When he gets tough, it's almost cute.
Meanwhile, Frank Drebin is a stone-serious, world-weary cop who happens to say the wrong thing at every turn. He's not bumbling so much as he's oblivious; he often misses the forest for the trees but always ends up at the right place at the right time. His deadpan delivery and rambling monologues are the stuff of legend, and they're all thanks to Leslie Nielsen.
Nielsen began his career as a serious actor, only transitioning to comedy at age 54 after a breakout role in Airplane!. Thus began a legendary switch in genres that was propelled by six television episodes and three feature films as Frank Drebin, the protagonist of numerous spoofs that sent up everything overly serious about police dramas.
He helped pre-murder OJ Simpson look like a comedic genius. His chemistry with George Kennedy was legendary. Even though their romance often was set against the silliest backdrops possible, you really wanted Frank and Jane to end up together.
Obviously, I'm a huge fan. One of the highlights of my recent trip to Los Angeles was taking a photo with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But I truly believe that his dramatic training, combined with a preternatural skill for pausing at just the right moment and letting a joke land, created a Frank Drebin that was truly unique.
It's not a flashy role; you don't provoke big guffaws or unleash any fart-or-cum bits. It's relentless, machine-gun style humor; joke joke joke joke joke joke. If you're into that, it's heavenly. But even the most hardened viewers are bound to crack when Frank compliments Jane on her beaver. Or when Frank butchers the National Anthem.
I do not think another human being -- past, present or future -- could nail that scene with such vigor. And that's because there will never be anyone else quite like Leslie Nielsen. I wrote 700 words after his death in 2010, and I could've written 7,000 more. Roger Ebert called him "the Olivier of spoofs"; there is no greater compliment. He cannot be replaced. Repeat, he cannot be replaced.
Take another role, Ed Helms. Bury this remake, Paramount. Go throw together a different idiotic cop movie; using the Naked Gun name means nothing to tweens and only infuriates enthusiasts like myself.
Let Leslie Nielsen's most enduring character rest. He's earned it.