Follow TV Tropes


Film / Dragnet

Go To

Dragnet is a 1987 buddy cop comedy film that serves as both an Affectionate Parody of and homage to the long-running television series Dragnet. It was written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz and stars Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. Although it's inspired by the franchise as a whole, it primarily apes the tropes of the 1960's revival series.

LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday, a Generation Xerox of his Uncle Joe from the series, is unhappily partnered with smart alec Pep Streebeck. Their contrasting personalities initially clash (it's like a rule or something), but they soon find common ground while investigating a cult calling itself P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy), who plan to perform a ritual that will culminate in a Virgin Sacrifice. Between trying to protect Connie Swail (the aforementioned virgin, played by Alexandra Paul) and unmask the cultists, the duo become the only ones who can stop an even deadlier plot that puts all of Los Angeles at risk.

Note: There are actually three different movies named Dragnet, one made in 1954 during the original TV series run, one made in 1966 as a jump-start for the revival series, and the 1987 film as described above. This page is only for the 1987 film - since the other two films are closely entwined with their respective TV series, they should go on the Franchise page instead with the tropes specific to the series.

Just the Tropes, Ma'am:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Friday's Granny Mundy cannot pronounce Streebek's last name to save her life. She even calls him "Detective Star Trek" at one point.
  • Aerith and Bob: Joe Friday, meet Pep Streebek.
  • Affably Evil: Jonathan Whirley.
  • Agony of the Feet: Friday has this when a limo runs over his feet.
  • Affectionate Parody: The love the cast and crew have for the original shines through even as they poke fun at it.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • After Friday's car is car-bombed... "My hat was in that car."
    • "Reckless endangerment of human life... willful destruction of private property... failure to signal for a safe lane change..."
  • Ascended Meme: Friday actually gets to say "Just the facts, ma'am" in the filmnote .
  • Auto Erotica: Parodied and averted in a scene where Streebek tries to figure out where Friday is:
    Streebek: For a minute I pictured him introducing that little Orange County cupcake to the one piece of his equipment not issued to him by the department. But then I figured Joe would never spring for the cost of a motel room. And since having sex in a Yugo was a logistical impossibility, I came to the conclusion that something was wrong.
  • Battering Ram: Apparently the LAPD has a vehicle that is the offspring of a battering ram and a tank.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Reverend Whirley and the police commissioner.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Whirley, a self-proclimed Moral Guardian who is secretly the Big Bad in disguise.
  • Brick Joke: The film parodies the series' opening "names have been changed" Catchphrase by noting that "George Baker will now be called Sylvia Wiss." A minor character by the name of Sylvia Wiss later shows up for a brief exchange.
  • Bound and Gagged: Connie is kidnapped in the third arc and three unnamed female party goers are seen bound and gagged and escorted away.
  • Buddy Cop Movie: Complete with an Odd Couple of protagonist policemen.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The other characters (and the audience) chuckle at Friday's hopelessly outdated, stodgy attitudes. But he shows us time and time again exactly why he's considered the best cop in Los Angeles. In the other direction, Streebeck clearly doesn't have much regard for regulations or procedure, but Friday mentions Pep has a long list of merit citations and he repeatedly proves his ability.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Friday, in clear contrast to Streebeck. He can even cite chapter and verse of the various regulations that have been violated by everyone from Streebeck to the actual criminals.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • During the pagan ritual, the Virgin Connie Swail manages to snag the mask off the pagan leader and see his face. When she later identifies him as the Reverend Whirley, only Friday believes her.
    • It Was Here, I Swear!: Friday and Streebek bring the police commissioner and their captain back to the site of the pagan ritual, only to discover that the pagans are better at cleaning up after themselves than a Slasher Movie villain. note 
  • Chekhov's Gun: The handful of drugs Streebek takes at the Pagan rally to blend in while undercover.
  • Celibate Hero: Friday, until the final scene.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Friday is nearly mugged by a gang of teenage delinquents, he laments "And on a school night too!"
  • Comically Serious: Dan Aykroyd takes Jack Webb's uber-straight demeanor and cranks it up to eleven. Could be described as Elwood Blues up to eleven as well.
  • Compensating for Something: Averted with Friday.
    The Virgin Connie Swail: How come his is so much bigger than yours?
    Sergeant Joe Friday: Miss?
    Connie: The gun.
    Friday: I've never needed more.
  • Cool Old Lady: Granny Mundy is clearly a lot more laid back than her grandson Friday is.
    Streebek: Granny Mundy, have you ever eaten a chili dog from the back of a motorcycle?
    Granny Mundy: Not 'til now, you sly dog!
  • Cranky Landlord: Enid Borden.
  • Damsel in Distress: Connie is kidnapped two times during the course of the movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pep Streebek. Friday too, in his own Motor Mouth way.
  • Decoy Protagonist: When Friday goes missing after being kidnapped by P.A.G.A.N., Streebek becomes the narrator while he finds out what happened to Friday. This is a (probably unintentional) Call-Back to the radio series: in "The Big Ben," Friday's partner Ben Romero takes over as the narrator and protagonist after Friday is shot and seriously wounded. He gets better.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Friday gradually becomes a little less high-strung and more friendly and gets the girl in the end.
  • Description Porn: Friday's narration is stuffed to the gills with generally trivial details.
  • Determinator: Friday, chasing a kidnapper who escapes on a Lear jet. Cue the police jet! Complete with siren, flashing lights and 'To Serve and Protect' emblem.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Friday constantly refers to the young woman they rescued as "the Virgin Connie Swail." Until the very end of the film:
    Streebeck: [catches Friday yawning on the way into work] Long night last night partner? I thought the Christian Science Reading Room closed at ten.
    Friday: Not that it's any of your business, Mr. National Enquirer, but I had the pleasure of spending a quiet evening in the company of Connie Swail.
    Streebeck: Wait a minute. "Connie Swail?" Don't you mean "the Virgin Connie Swail"?
    [Friday merely turns his head and looks at Streebeck with a raised eyebrow, accompanied with a *BUM-BA-DUM-BUM!* ]
  • Dirty Cop: Or in this case, dirty police commissioner.
  • Distressed Damsel: The Virgin Connie Swail.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Not the title theme itself, but the film's other major song, "City Of Crime" which plays over the closing credits, is an '80s style rap performed by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks (in-character as Friday and Streebek).
  • The Dragon / The Brute: Emil Muzz.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Police commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Friday and Streebek dress like street punks to infiltrate the P.A.G.A.N. meeting (they look kind of ridiculous, but it works until they have to rescue Connie).
  • Drives Like Crazy: "Streebek, there's no road here!"
    • During Friday's and Streebek's first police chase together, Friday enumerates a Long List of traffic violations... against his own partner.
    • Later reversed when Friday is rushing to save the Virgin Connie Swail (Streebek quickly guesses that Friday is acting less like a cop this time and more like a man in love, which Friday doesn't comment on):
      Streebek: Don't you remember those films they showed us in high school? Red Asphalt? Blood On The Highway?
      Friday: Buddy, you just picked two of my favorites!
      Streebek: (turns around) Hey, that was a four-way stop you just blew through!
      Friday: Felt good!
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Rev. Whirley frequently giggles at his own "jokes," but nobody else does.
  • Face Palm: Captain Gannon does a double-barreled version whilst Friday and Streekbek demonstrate the goat dance.
  • Fair Cop:
    • Streebek, once he gets cleaned out of his original undercover outfit.
    • Friday's not bad either — just ask the Virgin Connie Swail.
  • Family-Values Villain: The Big Bad is the well-known head of a moral advancement movement, and of course moonlights as a cult leader.
  • The Film of the Series
  • Fed to the Beast: The faux cultists intended to do this with Connie by throwing her to the stolen Burmese Python in a large water-filled tank. Streekbek was able to subdue the snake by force-feeding it the narcotic drugs he had gotten from a gang member earlier, putting it out quickly.
  • Flanderization: Aykroyd's Joe Friday takes the original Friday's straight-laced, by-the-rules personality up to eleven. Somewhat justified, as Aykroyd's character is the nephew of Webb's Friday, and clearly only imperfectly emulates his uncle.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • People Against Goodness And Normalcy. Pulls double duty as an Incredibly Lame Pun.
    • Also Moral Advance Movement of America, though that one gets a bit less attention.
  • Gilligan Cut: Not an actual cut, but in one scene where Friday is waiting to meet Streebek in a bad neighborhood, Narrator!Friday notes that it's not a good place to stand around whistling. You can guess what Friday is doing in the scene.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop:
    • Streebek's "interrogation" of Emil Muzz is a variation. When Friday (Good Cop) leaves the room to get coffee, Streebek (Bad Cop) does something very unorthodox to get him to talk. He reveals a few important details when Friday comes back, but then shuts up again, at which point Streebek "suggests" Friday leave again to get some danishes to go with the coffee. In the next scene it is implied that Emil told them the rest.
    • Friday specifically uses this term to describe a bondage game Streebek plays with his motorcycle cop girlfriend, but in that case it's a kinky game and not a true example of the trope.
  • Groin Attack:
    • During the chaotic escape from the pagan cult festival, one of the pagan cult members attempts to grab Connie, but she quickly takes him out with a fast knee to the nuts, saying that she's terribly sorry while he falls to the ground in a state of excruciating pain.
    • Streebek's "interrogation" of Emil Muzz.
    Well, Emil. Looks like it's just you, me, your balls...and this drawer. (Cue screaming and a Gilligan Cut to Muzz spilling his guts about everything).
    • And finally, Friday takes down Muzz again in the climax with a shotgun barrel to the nads.
  • Guilty Pleasure: For Friday, chili dogs.
  • Hollywood Law: Keep in mind, being a parody, everything falls under Rule of Funny. However, there are a few glaring moments worth mention:
    • The meeting where P.A.G.A.N. is planning to sacrifice the Virgin Connie Swail is noted as taking place in Orange County. The Los Angeles Police Department has no jurisdiction outside the city limits of Los Angeles, California. Not even within the County of Los Angeles. They would need to contact a different jurisdiction before doing anything. Even surveillance.
    • Sure, Joe hopping into a jet to bring down Rev. Whirley and rescue Connie once and for all looks cool, but that brings even more jurisdictions into play (FAA, U.S. Air Force, etc.), even if Joe worked fast enough to still bring him down over Los Angeles. Not to mention that the LAPD has never had a jet as part of its Air Support Division; the closest they've ever come is one propellor-driven business plane.
    • One more is noted in "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue below
  • Hollywood Satanism: Subverted - P.A.G.A.N. seems to be this at first. However, it turns out to be a ruse to rile up the public by making them think such an organization is in their midst, and make everyone distrust authority in order to put their true plan in motion (unfortunately for Connie, they're more than willing to commit murder to make their Virgin Sacrifice look real).
  • Human Sacrifice: Luckily for her, they needed a virgin.
    Streebek: You're still a virgin?
    Connie: Yes!
    Streebek: [prat-fall]
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    (Friday and Streebek are undercover as PAGANs)
    Friday: Bogus cops. No matter how many times I see that, it never fails to disgust me.
    Streebek: You mean people dressing up in strange clothes, pretending to be who they're not?
    Friday: Exactly! That kind of behav- *realizes, glares at Streebek* Just get out that list of stolen black and whites.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: "You'll get used to me in time."
  • Impersonating an Officer: Stolen police cars and PAGAN cult members disguised as officers are used to keep the locals away from the site where the Virgin Connie Swail is due to be sacrificed.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Friday, who claims to have only two vices: smoking and chili dogs. Spoofed, of course.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Thank God, it's Friday!"
  • The Infiltration:
    • Friday and Streebek go undercover at a pagan festival.
    • Dressing as the Enemy: Played semi-straight with the detectives; but also reversed with a pair of highway patrol officers who turn out to be disguised pagans.
  • Insistent Terminology: Friday introduces the woman they rescued as "the Virgin Connie Swail" in all circumstances... except one.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Streebek puts the charm on Friday's grandmother.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Joe Friday and Pep Streebeck infiltrate a P.A.G.A.N ritual with thousands of attendees, a fleet of stolen public vehicles, a giant television screen, and a huge pit with a giant snake inside of it. After they escape by the skin of their teeth, they go back there with their boss... and there's absolutely no trace of anything there.
  • Jerkass: Jane Kirkpatrick, Jerry Caesar (who narrowly escapes becoming an Asshole Victim later on) and Emil's landlady.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Capt. Gannon is presented as a crusty, "tough love" type of guy. On the other hand, when told that one of the best officers on the entire force has gone missing, you'd think your reaction would be a little more than "WHO CARES?"
  • Kinky Cuffs: Joe Friday has to pick up his partner Pep Streebek from his house where he's playing "Good Cop, Bad Cop" with his girlfriend, a motorcycle cop. Friday has to wait until she removes the handcuffs from Streebek's wrists before he can go with him.
  • Last-Name Basis: Friday is on one with Streebek, which irks him to no end.
    And by the way, my name... is Pep. It's not "Bub," "Mister," or even "Streebek." It's Pep. Friendships... start with first names, Joe.
  • Lawful Stupid: Friday is a borderline case, but he gets better.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Why would Friday publicly arrest a beloved cultural figure, who is close with both his captain and the police commissioner, without building any case first? Because that guy tried to kill the girl he's fallen for.
  • Menagerie of Misery: Discussed. After Joe talks about how good the animals have it at the zoo, Pep expresses skepticism.
    Pep: Really? Do you think that before these guys were drugged, roped, crated, and shipped across the ocean that they were jockeying for position saying "Pick me! Pick me! I wanna live on damp cement!"?
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Kidnapping of a woman (who is a virgin, and this is emphasized every time she's mentioned) —> the discovery of a criminal cult with members in all levels of society —> the Evil Plan of Reverend Jonathan Whirley to become incredibly rich by Playing Both Sides — milking the Moral Guardians for his anti-porn crusade while running the porn companies themselves, using the cult he created as foot soldiers.
  • Motor Mouth: Friday, who can rapid-fire stuff like police regulations in a way only Dan Aykroyd can.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Aside from the various girls accompanying Caesar, there is Streebek's motorcycle cop girlfriend.
  • Mugging the Monster: The three young punks that want some smokes from Friday. A Curb-Stomp Battle ensues. "And on a school night, too."
  • Mythology Gag: At the start of the film, Friday's partner Frank Smith gets Put on a Bus (since he never appears on camera, it's more accurate to say he never got off the bus). One of Friday's partners in the series, as detailed in the body, was also named Frank Smith.
    Capt. Gannon: I'm afraid Frank won't be coming in today, Joe.
    Joe Friday: 24-hour flu?
    Capt. Gannon: Or tomorrow.
    Friday: 48?
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: Joe Friday falls for the Virgin Connie Swail after rejecting a topless model and a stripper. Connie may also be using this trope, since she chooses Joe over his partner who is seen with several different women; it's implied Joe is a virgin himself.
    Pep Streebeck: Oh Joe, you never had these feelings before, have you?
    Joe Friday: Almost. I had a kitten once.
    Pep Streebeck: Yeah, it's going to be a little different. Connie is not going to be sleeping in a box, or meowing all night, or clawing up your drapes. Or maybe she will. I mean, you're both kind of starting from scratch with this.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Friday isn't impressed at all by the dancers at the strip club that Streebek takes him to (which he admits, makes good coffee).
  • Of Course I'm Not a Virgin: Totally averted. The Virgin Connie Swail doesn't mind people introducing her as such, and Friday doesn't deny it himself.
    Joe Friday: [as they go undercover at a pagan ritual] "Prepare the virgin?" I don't like the sound of that.
    Pep Streebeck: Let's just hope they're not referring to you.
  • Odd Couple
  • Perp Sweating / Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique:
    • "Well, Muzz, looks like it's just you and me... your balls, and this drawer."
    • The TV edit cuts the word "balls" without losing its effectiveness.
  • Psycho for Hire: Emil Muzz.
  • Running Gag: The police cars assigned to Friday and Streebek keep getting damaged or destroyed. Ultimately, they are assigned a Yugo. Friday still describes it as "an example of Serbo-Croatian" technology.
  • Rank Up/Remake Cameo/Continuity Nod:
    • Harry Morgan returns as Bill Gannon, long since promoted to captain and put in command of the Robbery-Homicide Division.
    • A photo of Jack Webb sits on Joe's desk, as this one is the original's nephew.
  • Sergeant's Log: Friday gives us the facts, just like Jack Webb used to.
  • Sex Is Evil: Friday seems to think so at first.
    Friday: [After turning down Sylvia Weiss] Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we're capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don't drag me down into your private Hell.
  • Sinister Minister: Reverend Whirley, whose pious televangelist act is just that, and while he rails against the wickedness of Jerry Caesar's smut empire for the cameras, he's also plotting to murder Caesar and take it over himself. Friday, who believed him to be genuinely devout, isn't happy to learn this.
  • Shown Their Work: As a good-natured send up of the original show, the script paid homage to Webb's fastidious attention to detail. The movie version of Friday cites the actual regulations regarding dress and appearance from the LAPD handbook.
    Friday: I don't care what undercover rock you crawled out from, there's a dress code for detectives in Robbery-Homicide. Section 3-605, point one-oh, point two-oh, point two-two, point two-four, point two-six, point five-oh, point seven-oh, point eight-oh. It specifies: clean shirt, short hair, tie, pressed trousers, sports jacket or suit, and leather shoes, preferably with a high shine on them.
    • Dan Aykroyd and Tom Mankiewicz got to see a lot of old episodes of Dragnet (particularly the revival series, which was and still is controlled by Universal, who also produced this movie) and it shows in how Friday talks and acts. Friday's opening "This is the City" narration would not be out of place being used to start one of the revival episodes.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Enid Borden.
  • Smug Snake: Reverend Whirley and Jerry Caesar.
  • Straight Man: Dan Aykroyd portrays a very anal-retentive version of Joe Friday, who might be described as Elwood Blues up to eleven.
  • Spin-Offspring: Well, nephew, at any rate. Just for good measure, the nephew not only acts like his uncle, but also talks and dresses like him.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: Friday does this so Streebeck can have a quick "heart-to-heart" with Emil Muzz. When Muzz starts to shut up again, Strebeck says, "You know, some danish would go great with this coffee", and out Friday goes again.
  • Storming the Castle
  • Take That!: A few aimed towards the Yugo (the only car the department is willing to issue Friday and Streebek after they lose two of them), but most would call that fair game.
  • Tank Goodness: Sporting a smiley-face Battering Ram instead of a gun.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Friday invokes this when forced to work with smut king Jerry Caesar:
    Friday: I don't care for you or for the putrid sludge you're troweling out. But until they change the laws and put you sleaze kings out of business, my job is to help you get back your stench-ridden boxes of smut; and since I'll be doing it holding my nose, I'll be doing it with ONE HAND!
  • Theme Naming: Granny Mundy. Sure, it's spelled different, but still...
  • They Call Me Mr Tibbs: While stressing out about Friday and the Virgin Connie Swail being missing, Pep unloads on an unkempt uniform cop who fails to address him as "Detective", capping it off by ordering the cop to get a proper haircut. He immediately becomes distressed to have reacted exactly the way Friday would've.
  • Truth in Television: Reverend Whirley being Jerry Caesar's chief financier because he makes more money crusading against pornography rather than actually ending it (and the cash flow) has actually been done by organizations in real life.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Threatened by the police commissioner, mainly because she's in on the caper. Friday is finally forced to do so, but by the film's climax, Gannon hands it back to him, confessing that he didn't have the heart to make it official.
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe example with Friday, who doggedly clings to his uncle's Fifties-/Sixties-era button-down, hyper-conservative worldview in the midst of the so-called Decade Of Excess.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Parodied when the PAGAN cult's full name is shown for the first time.
    Joe: (reading) People Against Goodness And Normalcy...P-A-G-A-N...PAGAN!
    Pat: (sarcastically): Nice work, Joe.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Whirley and Kirkpatrick.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: The bad guys steal a wedding dress so their Virgin Sacrifice will wear white.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: Downplayed with Joe Friday and (the Virgin) Connie Swail, although it's more them being incredibly old-fashioned and uptight than idiotic.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Connie Swail.
  • Virgin Tension: Downplayed, but Connie Swail is always "the Virgin Connie Swail"... until the closing shot of the film.
  • Visual Pun: At the end of the film, when Joe Friday reunites with The Virgin Connie Swail at the airport, there's a shot of her standing with a Lockheed Constellation in the background. The Constellation was a 40's era transatlantic airliner that had the nickname "Connie."
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Streebek seems to view his partnership with Friday as such, and even confesses to Friday that in spite of all his past judgement in thinking he's thick-headed, insensitive, reactionary, and less fun to be around than anyone else he knows, he considers him a true friend. Friday's viewpoint is a little more ambiguous, though he does eventually call Streebek by his first name (and with a smile) after given this little speech:
    Streebek: My name is Pep. It's not Mister, or Junior, or Bub, or even Streebek, it's Pep. Friendships start with first names... Joe.
  • Wham Line: Or more technically, Wham Silence after Steebek asks, "Don't you mean the VIRGIN Connie Swail?" Cue raised eyebrow from Friday and "DUN Dun DUN DUN..."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nothing is said about what happens to Commissioner Kirkpatrick.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Because it just wouldn't be Dragnet without it - the film dutifully trots out the series' signature closing shot describing the Big Bad's ultimate fate... and then proceeds to give it a big ol' wedgie.
    Narrator: The Reverend Jonathan Whirley was sentenced to 43 consecutive 99-year prison terms. Which means he'll be eligible for parole in seven years. note 
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Whirley is plotting to kill both the Mayor and Jerry Caesar, intending to run both sides of the "smut empire/moral majority" equation. When the plan crumbles and he makes his getaway, he also casually ditches his co-conspirator by stranding her on the runway to be arrested by the authorities.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame:
    Caesar: I'll give you money, jewels, broads, automobiles! I'll give you anything you want, just name it!
    Friday: How about taking your hands off my suit?
    Caesar: Absolutely.