35 Years Ago: ‘Police Academy 4′ Becomes ‘Formula for Disaster’
Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg was under no illusion about his motivations when he signed on for his fourth and final installment of the comedy franchise.
“There’s a pallor that casts over your face when you look in the mirror knowing you did a job for the money,” the actor wrote in his 2012 memoir, The Guttenberg Bible. “Laurence Olivier did Polaroid commercials. Orson Welles did Gallo wine. I stepped into a police uniform one too many times. But the money was sizable, and I took it. We all took it."
Director Hugh Wilson's Police Academy became an unexpected smash upon its release in 1984, opening at No. 1 and going on to gross nearly $150 million worldwide against a budget of $4.5 million. The ribald comedy prompted a flurry of sequels, released like clockwork every year. The first three Police Academy films topped the box office and made beaucoup bucks, but with Police Academy 4, the winning formula seemed to have finally run its course.
Guttenberg reprised his role as Sgt. Carey Mahoney, who joins his fellow officers in recruiting and training civilians to work alongside them as part of the new Citizens On Patrol (COP) program. It quickly became apparent to Guttenberg that the film's cast and crew had their work cut out for them.
Director Jim Drake was under immense pressure from Warner Bros. after Police Academy 3 underperformed somewhat, and writer Gene Quintano had to race through the script to stay on track for the rapidly approaching filming and release dates. Factor in the studio giving the production budget a "short haircut," as Guttenberg put it, and they had a "formula for disaster."
Watch the Trailer for 'Police Academy 4'
Police Academy 4 opened on April 3, 1987. The film topped the box office with roughly $8.4 million, but it quickly leveled off and ultimately ended its run with $28 million domestic and $76.8 million worldwide — slightly more than half of the original film's global haul.
Moreover, critics absolutely savaged Police Academy 4, citing juvenile humor and paper-thin plot. It is one of the few films to hold a rare 0% "Rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. The site's film summary reads: "Utterly, completely, thoroughly and astonishingly unfunny, Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol sends a once-innocuous franchise plummeting to agonizing new depths."
Furthermore, Police Academy 4 became the only film in the franchise to earn a Razzie nomination, with Brian Wilson's "Let's Go to Heaven in My Car" getting a nod for Worst Original Song.
It wasn't all bad. Guttenberg fondly recalled the time he spent with franchise newcomers Sharon Stone and David Spade, neither of whom had become stars yet. He also admired the talent of a teenage Tony Hawk, who served as Spade's stunt double in a skateboarding scene.
But these on-set interactions were hardly enough to redeem the disastrous Police Academy 4. Once filming was completed, Guttenberg — who would go on to star in 1987's biggest movie, Three Men and a Baby — turned in his badge and walked away from the franchise.
"The day we wrapped," Guttenberg wrote, "I knew that it would be the last."