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What starts out as a light-hearted palate cleanse quickly becomes more than Sean and Cody bargained for as they seek to lighten the mood with a classic Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker slapstick comedy. In The Naked Gun 2½, dimwitted Police Squad detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) bumbles into a plot where evil White House Chief of Staff John Sununu (Peter Van Norden) is trying to rig George Bush’s environmental policy so fossil fuel fat cats like the dapperly mustachioed Quentin Hapsburg (Robert Goulet) can keep killing the planet for profit. But with Drebin, Ed and Nordberg on the case, are the oily baddies finally about to meet their Waterloo? Environmental issues discussed include the evolution of climate change denial as official U.S. policy, the consequences of the George H.W. Bush presidency, the cultural resonance of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, and the influence of fossil fuel industry lobby groups on public opinion.
Why did John Sununu hate science so much? How did tobacco company shills and defense analysts pushing beam weapons to Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s prime the pump for the rise of global warming denialism? What was the most embarrassing oil company commercial of all time? Was Hazelwood really drunk when the Exxon Valdez crashed into that reef, or was that an urban myth? How do you stretch an 85-minute comedy into three excruciating hours of television? How did Priscilla Presley get into Scientology? Is The Sound of Music really a Christmas movie? Does anybody remember who Mel Tormé was? Why is this film so damned depressing and enraging? All of these questions are ready to be taken downtown and interrogated in this episode of Green Screen.
Trailer for The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.
Here is an alternate trailer for the film, playing up the Ghost spoof angle.
Additional Materials About This Episode
Additional scenes from the film.
The wheelchair gag.
Robert Goulet’s portrayal of Quentin Hapsburg, evil oil company executive.
Climate Change Denial and Climate Policy Under George H.W. Bush
Few of the Bush library documents have been digitized (meaning you have to go to the library in College Park, Texas to see them), but the following are indices of documents that sketch out the story of denialism in the Bush White House.
George H.W. Bush Presidential Library document, “Selected Records on Global Climate Change.” This index contains some of the documents that fill in the history of Sununu’s effort to instill climate change denial in the Bush White House, but not all of them:
Document Report, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. Index record of memoranda from John Sununu to various administration officials; note subjects discussed include climate change and Exxon Valdez disaster. (Many of these substantive memos form the basis of the climate change denial story, linked to Sununu):
Example of a Heritage Foundation (denialist think-tank) report from January/February 1989 discussing priorities in the new G.H.W. Bush White House. Note the newsletter references SDI “Star Wars” program:
SourceWatch page on John H. Sununu and climate change denial:
Interview with Nathaniel Rich, author of “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.”
MSNBC report (September 2019) on what Exxon knew about climate change in the 1970s, and how they pivoted to a stance of denial.
Dana Carvey’s contemporary (1990) portrayal of George H.W. Bush on Saturday Night Live.
1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Disaster
Contemporary (1989) news footage of the disaster. Watch to the end for an update from 2010: not surprisingly, 21 years later the oil spill had still not been cleaned up.
“The Captain Went Down With the Ship” by Daniel Coyle, Inside Online, 1997. A profile of Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez:
“How ‘The Sound of Music’ Became a Christmas Movie Alongside ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Home Alone,'” by Allison Cacich:
“How Did The Sound of Music Become a Christmas Movie?” by Sarah Cottrell:
The Naked Gun 2½ (1991) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102510/
The Naked Gun 2½ (1991) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-naked-gun-2-the-smell-of-fear/
Next Movie Up: King Kong (1933)