No Gun-Shy Guy
A TV COMMERCIAL FOR NUCLEAR power features a dog with two tails. A needlepoint sampler reads A WALK IS AS GOOD AS A HIT—ALBERT CAMUS, and when the movie’s befuddled lovebirds request their song, the pianist belts out “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.”
Okay, it’s not Molière—or even Neil Simon—but the wisecracks and pratfalls that propel director David Zucker’s The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear sent it soaring above the summer hits, past Robin Hood and City Slickers. With a $20.8 million first-weekend gross, the film will almost certainly continue the hit-making tradition of 1980’s Airplane! and 1986’s Ruthless People, which Zucker codirected with his brother, Jerry, and their partner, Jim Abrahams.
Yet amid the salvos of silliness in Zucker’s second solo effort (1988’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! was his first), the director has included an earnest message: oil and nuclear power—bad; energy efficiency—good. While wooing back the spacey Jane Spencer, played by Priscilla Presley, Leslie Nielsen’s blandly wacko police lieutenant, Frank Drebin, battles an evil energy cartel. Says Zucker, 43, whose three-bedroom house in the Westwood section of L.A. is outfitted with solar panels and water-conserving toilets: “The message is kind of like this Trojan horse, all neatly wrapped in candy.”
Zucker’s cockeyed creativity can be traced to the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, where he and Jerry, 41, grew up reading Mad magazine with sister Susan (now a speech therapist), mom Charlotte, a junior high school teacher, and dad Burton, a real estate developer. “David’s humor was always skewed,” says Charlotte, recalling a Valentine’s card he gave her when he was in grade school. “He had someone take pictures of him shoveling snow and added the caption ‘I really dig you.’ ”
Still, he and Jerry, who says he “went along gleefully” with David’s pranks, didn’t truly cut loose until they enrolled in film courses at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The Zucker boys produced The Best Things in Life Are Free, which focused, says David, on “Jerry trying to take a pee on campus and not being able to find a place,” and a parody of Midnight Cowboy titled 12:05 Cowboy. “Our relationship is based on being naughty together,” says Jerry. “And if you’ve been doing that since you were 5 or 6, it’s just second nature.”
In 1971 they found a way to turn their mischief into money. With their friend Abrahams, the Zuckers founded Kentucky Fried Theater, a mix of videotaped parodies and live skits. They played in Madison for a year and then to standing-room crowds in L.A. for five years. In 1977 they turned the KIT material into the John Landis-directed Kentucky-Fried Movie.
Their film collaborations (except for 1984’s Top Secret!) proved golden at the box office, but after Ruthless People the brothers and Abrahams decided amicably to pursue separate projects. Occasionally, they lend each other writing and producing support, and in Gun 2½, David has some clay-spattering fun with the pottery love scene from Jerry’s Ghost. And David still gives Jerry and the rest of the family bit parts in all his movies.
At mid-life, David has yet to start his own family. “Things happen,” he says, dismissing past romances. But he is now sharing his Westwood house and his 20-acre ranch in Ojai, Calif., with film producer Jolie Chain, who is currently developing a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as executive producer. Friends since 1984, Chain and Zucker had lost touch. Then two years ago, says Chain, “a mutual friend told me that David had changed, that he was really cool and sexy—not boyish like before.” So she called him, he invited her to the premiere of The Naked Gun, and they’ve been together ever since.
Is he the kind of guy who brings home flowers? “Hmmm,” considers Chain. “Let’s see, should I lie?” May be he’d just rather say it with trees. At last count Zucker had planted 7,000 at his ranch. “Jolie really got me into this stuff,” he says of his Earth awareness. “Now she thinks I’ve gone overboard and she’s created a monster.”
Still, Zucker promises his movies will not become green-thumb suckers. “People like my stuff because it’s silly,” he says. “I’m not looking for respect.” Funny thing: He gets it.
MARIE MONEYSMITH in Los Angeles