Director: Neal Israel

USA - 1986

(Please note:  Any anachronisms in the following review are used for comic effect.  How comedic that effect is, however, remains to be seen.) 

In my mind’s eye, I see a large conglomeration of TV celebrities congregating during a break between tapings of Hollywood Squares. 

John Ratzenberger is sitting next to Jamie Farr, and Robert Culp is bumming a smoke from Sherman Hemsley.  On the other side of the sound stage, Richard Moll lurks in the shadows, contemplating how he should go about asking out the cute young intern who brings the VIPs coffee during commercials. 

Though they are all renowned masters in the relentlessly-demanding field of television comedy, they are nonetheless savoring their moment of glory participating in America ’s favorite game show - not to mention the chance to enjoy the company of their fellow thespians.  But with the season finale drawing near, their whimsical days and magical nights as wise-cracking Hollywood Squares’ contestants are soon to be over.  They may smile on the outside, but on the inside they harbor only gray clouds and empty packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Suddenly, in a moment of divine inspiration, Robert Culp spits the Marlboro from his mouth and exclaims:  “Guys!  The fun doesn’t have to end here!”  “ 

The others look up, surprised at his instant hysteria.

“Let’s shoot a movie!” He says.  “Let’s shoot a movie together!”

A murmur of excitement races through the crowd, and they begin to chatter incessantly.  Richard Moll is initially excited as well, but suddenly hesitates after realizing that participating in this collaborative effort might conflict with the upcoming shoot for House 6: Citizens on Patrol. 

“I don’t know, fellas,” He says.  “I have a couple projects on the ole backburner…”

Though none of the other celebs dare make such a bold statement, they nonetheless nod their heads and grunt in ambiguous agreement.  Undeterred, Culp continues:  “But guys!  We’re all so damn funny!  Can you imagine what would happen if we put our heads together?  Shared some ideas?!  We’re talking BOX OFFICE GOLD!!”  Culp smiles wryly, picks up his cigarette from the studio floor and props it between his lips.  “And it just so happens,” He says.  “That a certain someone knows the guy who directed The Brady Bunch in the White House, Love Boat: The Next Wave, The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley as well as Surf Ninjas…”  Culp trails off; his grin now grazing both earlobes. 

This revelation, of course, further piques the others’ interest.  But a degree of skepticism still remains:  “We’re gonna need a good story,” Jamie Farr says.  “I mean, we’re all pretty damn funny, but you can only stretch the jokes so far.  We’re going to need some razor-sharp narrative to move the plot along.  The jokes’ll keep ‘em laughing, but the story brings the butts to the theater.” 

“Stop the presses!”  Dick Van Patten says, emerging from a nearby Port-a-John.  “I couldn’t help but hear your conversation, and I happen to have a buddy who’s been working on a very special script for quite some time.”

“What kind of a special script?”  Sherman Hemsley asks.

“Weeell,” Van Patten starts, slapping his hands together.  “It involves two kids who get into a lot of mischief.  You know, the usual stuff:  TP’ing school property, switching the signs between the girls’ and boys’ restrooms – stuff like that.  Anyway, after years and years of pranks and general tomfoolery, the boys finally push The Man too far and are sentenced to military school – a combat academy, if you will.  Finally, their wacky ways are put to the test against a hard-nosed commandant, his tough-but-well-meaning son, and the requisite muscle-bound bully.  Of course we’ll throw in the usual rigors that coincide with any form of military training: the meticulous cleaning, strenuous physical education, following rules and obeying orders, etcetera.”

“Wow!”  John Ratzenberger exclaims.  “That does sound good!”

“And that’s just the start!”  Van Patten gushes, clapping his hands together once again.  “There’s also some great subplots involving the young hooligan falling in love with the by-the-book sergeant, sibling-like rivalry between two childhood friends, as well as the daunting task of reciprocating love and respect between a father and his son while adhering to the strict rules and regulations inherent to being a member of the Armed Forces!”

“And we should throw in some evil Russians!”  Jamie Farr says, thus causing the excited thespians to once again chatter incessantly.  Robert Culp raises his hands, calming down his comrades.

“This is some heavy material,” He says, picking out something green from between his teeth.  “We’ll need a strong lead.”

“Yeah, a strong lead, but a fresh new face!”  John Ratzenberger adds.  “As we symbolize the glamour of Hollywood present, he should symbolize the strength of Hollywood ’s future!”

“How about that Michael J. Fox kid?”  Culp suggests.  “He’s pretty darn good.” 

“Nah,” Van Patten says.  “His fifteen minutes of fame passed by two years ago.  The kid’s going nowhere.  The only thing that made him good in ‘Family Ties’ was the strength of the material.  You want a star?  How about Keith Gordon?  You know, the kid who played Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School?”

“Wowsers!”  Culp says.  “He is good!”

Jamie Farr suddenly leaps to his feet with a triumphant cry:  “Count me in, fellas!”  He says, shoving his outstretched hand in-between the huddled mass of Box Office Gold.

“This is a no brainer!”  Robert Culp says, placing his hand atop Farr’s.

“Guess I’m in too,” Sherman Hemsley says, adding his hand to the mix.

Dick Van Patten, never one to mince words, simply places his hand over Hemsley’s. 

“Don’t forget about Big John Rat!”  John Ratzenberger says, adding his hand to the ever-increasing pile. 

Amid all the excitement, however, the troop of future cinematic co-stars almost forget one crucial ingredient.  

They look to Richard Moll - the final standout - their eyes wide in anticipation.  Moll looks hesitant at first, but then that affable grin that America had grown to love slowly spreads across his stone-like countenance. 

“Aw nuts,” He says.  “Who am I to let my buddies down?”

“Get over here, you big lug!”  Van Patten squeals.  Richard Moll finally puts his hand into the pile and almost instantly a surge of power emanates through each and every one of them.  Their powers combine, and their thoughts become one.

They all knew they were embarking on something very special.  Something that would not only changes their lives, but cinematic history as well.  Later, some would argue that their collaborative celluloid effort was instrumental in changing the face of our nation today. 

Or not.

In all honesty, Combat Academy borders on tedious throughout its duration.  Think of the worst Police Academy sequel, then subtract half the laughs (which mathematically leaves the movie indebted to the viewer). 

Despite his best efforts, Keith Gordon, who’s likeable in films like The Legend of Billie Jean, is painfully unfunny as the “wacky” lead.  In his defense, few actors can take horrible writing and still be funny (a rare trait called “The Bill Murray Effect”). 

The same cannot be said about the “stars” of Combat Academy .  Everyone pretty much phones in their performance, with the exception of Richard Moll, who’s extraordinarily horrible as a dimwitted professor.  The rest of the cast are left to flounder in a pool of bad jokes, a slew of clichés, and an insulting Cold War subplot where we learn not to hate those pesky Russians.

You would think a few talented comedians could at least come up with something that borders on funny.  Say what you will about the majority of the cast (I know I did), but Sherman Hemsley is a funny guy!

Simply stated: Combat Academy sucks.




-- Copyright 2005, J. Bannerman


































There’s also a horrible cover of The Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”  Have they no shame?
































I would also be remiss not to mention that Combat Academy also features Bernie “Doc” Kopell and Dana Hill from National Lampoon’s European Vacation.  I would’ve mentioned them earlier, but I was too dazzled by the sheer magnitude of the film’s starpower. 
I’m also an idiot.








































Oh yeah, there’s also a young unknown named George Clooney who plays a character named “Biff.”  No, really.  His name is Biff.


































I should also that mention that Keith Gordon went on to become a successful director.  Jamie Farr, however, still frequents the game show circuits.

OK, that's it.