Naked Gun 4 | The story of the lost sequel, featuring Leslie Nielsen

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The 2009 script for a fourth Naked Gun movie featured a sizeable role for Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin. From the files of Film Stories, we look at what could have been…

No franchise sequel that puts the word “final” in its subtitle actually means it – not Saw, not Resident Evil, and certainly not Friday The 13th. But in 2009, which is the same year The Final Destination came along (followed by Final Destination 5 a couple of years later), even The Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult looked less final than advertised.

After originating the character Lt. Frank Drebin in the cracking but short-lived TV comedy Police Squad!, Leslie Nielsen starred in three Naked Gun movies released in 1988, 1991, and 1994. Simon’s covered the original (and best) film in the series in a previous episode of the Film Stories podcast, which you can hear below:

As part of the brilliant creative partnership of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, David Zucker directed the first two films. but only co-wrote the third film, which was directed by Peter Segal. And if the title wasn’t decisive enough, The Final Insult was also the lowest-grossing of the trilogy, so it seemed that three was enough for Paramount.

But fast-forward a decade and a half later, and The Naked Gun 4 was suddenly on the table again. The driving force behind the sudden revival of the franchise was Paramount Famous Productions, a made-for-home-entertainment division established in 2007. Its remit was to make sequels to films owned by Paramount and DreamWorks (which the studio acquired in 2005).

Starting in 2009, Paramount Famous released direct-to-DVD sequels to Without A Paddle, Van Wilder, and Road Trip, largely without any involvement from the cast or crew of the originals. Additionally, Deadline reported the division was also developing spin-offs of Grease, Bad News Bears, Mean Girls, and, wouldn’t you know it, The Naked Gun.

It should be noted that Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker weren’t involved and reportedly did everything they could to stop this going forward – the state of the spoof movie genre was significantly depreciated by this time, thanks to the comic barbarism of “2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie”, including Meet The Spartans and Disaster Movie, so you can see why anyone would be concerned.

Nevertheless, in 2009, eagle-eyed film reporters found that a new Naked Gun sequel had qualified for a production tax rebate in the state of California. Although the project was never officially announced, the writer assigned to take the franchise forward was Alan Spencer, creator of the TV cop sitcom Sledge Hammer. Spencer reportedly claimed he signed on to the project as a ‘rescue mission’ – again, given the state of the sub-genre, you can see why.

His draft, The Naked Gun: What 4? The Rhythm Of Evil, reimagined the series in an exaggerated Los Angeles inspired by grittier cop movies and TV shows like Training Day and CSI. In another, more urgent acknowledgement that time has passed, there’s a big, cheeky laugh early on in the way Spencer writes Nordberg (O.J. Simpson) out of the series with the police commissioner referencing a ‘sports memorabilia sting that went belly-up’ and holding up an actual news photo of the actor being arraigned. (‘I still believe that he’s innocent!’)

The Naked Gun

Most pressingly though, while most pitches before and since have moved the action onto Frank Drebin’s son or other characters, Spencer also wrote in a major role for Nielsen. When the city recommissions Police Squad to tackle the overwhelming crimewave, Frank naturally assumes that he’ll be leading the team, but instead finds himself mentoring rookie cops.

A lot of the best Naked Gun jokes are sight gags so execution would have been everything, but by all accounts, the script is very funny, and contemporary online script reviews praised it for having a police procedural mystery underpinning the gags and references. Indeed, reports have it that the script was so good, Paramount briefly moved development on The Rhythm Of Evil over to its theatrical division.

Oh, and of the aforementioned projects, only Mean Girls 2 got made – sans Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Tina Fey, naturally. Paramount Famous was shuttered early in 2011, shortly after the sequel was released.

Over at Paramount theatrical though, the first studio note was to reduce Nielsen’s part to a cameo. Some reports say this was due to budgetary concerns, and one account has it that an unnamed Paramount executive at the time had never actually heard of The Naked Gun. Either way, when they went further and asked Spencer to write the character out of the script completely, the writer took his leave from the project altogether.

As we’ve frequently reported on the site in the past, Paramount has been working on rejigging the franchise for the big screen for the better part of the past decade. Another incarnation of The Naked Gun 4, with a Star Wars-inspired working title of Episode IV: A New Hope was set up in December 2013, with Thomas Lennon and R. Ben Garant writing the script and Ed Helms starring as “Frank Drebin, no relation”. Original writers David Zucker and Pat Proft even had a bash at working on that script in 2017.

But as things stand, producer Seth MacFarlane has been developing a reboot with Liam Neeson confirmed to play Frank Drebin Jr. The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer is set to direct the new movie, reuniting with Chip ‘N Dale screenwriting duo Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, who have been reworking a script by Mark Hentemann and Alec Sulkin.

However, the planned summer 2023 production start was off the table during the Writers’ Guild and Screen Actors’ Guild strikes, and there have been no further updates while the SAG strike is ongoing.

Maybe if the stars had aligned, we could have had a Naked Gun spoof of Training Day that put the much-missed Leslie Nielsen in the mentor role. The star continued as a kind of patron saint of spoof movies of all sizes up until he sadly passed away in November 2010. As for the future of the franchise, it’s at this point we’ll just have to freeze-frame, like one of the iconic credit sequences from the original Police Squad! TV series…


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