Armed and Dangerous opens with two very funny sequences that it never quite lives up to. In the first, beat cop Frank Dooley (John Candy) catches some LAPD detectives robbing an electronics store. When he refuses to cooperate with the theft, they arrest him as the fall guy for their crimes. In the second, inept public defender Norman Kane (Eugene Levy) tries to get out of defending a Manson-like psychopath with the world’s worst plea bargain (“In exchange for a guilty plea, we will accept a life sentence with no opportunity for parole”).
As a result of these opening scenes, Dooley and Kane end up working as security guards, turning the movie into a standard mismatched-buddy story that never lives up to its early potential. Dooley and Kane spend the bulk of the movie trying to stop and/or expose a security guard crime ring supported by their corrupt union. From this barebones story, screenwriters Harold Ramis and Peter Torokvei attempt to craft numerous comedic situations that never take off. When Dooley and Kane try to fight the union, they’re reassigned to a toxic-waste dump. When Dooley and Kane attempt to gather evidence of a criminal conspiracy, they’re forced to elude sinister union cronies by ducking into a porn shop and “borrowing” clothes from a cross-dresser and a leather boy. In most cases, the writers use these wacky sight gags as the punchline. Maybe these sight gags were clever in 1986, but they don’t hold up the way a well-written script would.
They should have spent more time crafting the banter between Dooley and Kane. Candy and Levy have an undeniable chemistry, on top of being very funny individuals. The script just doesn’t do a great job of exploiting the chemistry, relying too much on the aforementioned tepid sight gags instead of strengthening the dialogue. It’s no surprise that the funniest scene after the opening is simply Dooley and Kane in a peepshow booth, trying to figure out the conspiracy while Dooley leers at a stripper (“It helps me think!” he shouts to a disgusted Kane, who quickly becomes engrossed in the show himself).
As expected, the movie devolves into a series of cliché-ridden gunfights, explosions, and car chases. Again, the writers expect to mine lazy laughs from the mere fact that two well-known comedians (not action stars) have gotten themselves into these situations. They never do the heavy lifting of actually making these action sequences funny beyond that fish-out-of-water disparity.
Ultimately, the movie is a combination of elements that should work but don’t: Candy and Levy work well together, the villains (headed by Robert Loggia and Jonathan Banks) are comically hostile, and the serviceable plot provides ample opportunity for amusing, memorable gags. The lazy script doesn’t help much, but perhaps director Mark L. Lester bears some of the blame. Mostly known for action movies (prior to this, he directed Commando and Firestarter), Lester’s work here is competent, but it’s possible he didn’t bring enough comedic energy or invention to the set.
You could do worse to while away the hours than Armed and Dangerous, but you’re better off investing in SCTV DVDs if you want to see John Candy and Eugene Levy at their best.