“City of Crime,” by Dan Aykroyd & Tom Hanks, from Dragnet
There’s a very short list of things I miss about the movies of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. For the most part, it was a pretty transitory period for the sort of movies I like. Even given the fact that I was a kid at the time, the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia can only do so much to influence my opinions on the actual quality of things like Best of the Best or Judgment Night.
However, I feel like the pinnacle — or nadir, depending on how you look at it — of this trend came rather early, with “City of Crime,” from 1987’s Dragnet. The film — starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks — was a filmic reworking of the popular 1960s television show, which was itself a reworking of the popular 1950s radio program. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, yet managed to be a fairly faithful homage to the show, which had been running in reruns for years by the time the film came out.
Looking at it now, it’s a little uneven, but it’s carried by the fact that Aykroyd plays his role absolutely straight, and we get the finest of Tom Hanks’ goofy comedic era, where he’s all energy and enthusiasm. The movie got a lot of play on HBO when I was a kid, so I’ve probably seen this movie more than its quality warrants, but damned if certain aspects, such as the People Against Goodness and Normalcy (PAGAN) haven’t managed to hold on as being brilliantly weird.
“Brilliantly weird” is exactly how one might also describe the song which plays over Dragnet’s end credits. Entitled “City of Crime,” it is, indeed, a rap song, but performed by Aykroyd and Hanks, and it’s pretty terrible. However, it’s pretty terrible in the way where, when you hear it at age 9, you’re like, “Man, this is AWESOME!” especially if you’re a supremely uncool kid in a small Kansas town, and likely the only rap music you’ve heard at this point is maybe “Walk This Way.”
I’d actually never seen the video until recently. I’d found a sealed copy on the soundtrack for sale online, and while I waiting for it to show up in the mail, I went looking for version to play for my wife, who’d never heard the song. While she was struck more by the fact that Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes sounds an awful lot like Billy Squier when he sings “This is a city of criiiiiiiiime,” I was sitting jaw agape at the choreographed dance with Aykroyd, Hanks, and the PAGAN members in their goat masks and leggings.
That dance is then repeated again with female police officers, who are somewhere between prototypical hip-hop dancers, a Rockettes-style kickline, and hair metal video vixens. It’s so very much of a specific place and time that it might as well be stamped with an expiration date. Strangely, even knowing that it’s fairly-well horrible, you can find a few things to enjoy. Pat Thrall’s guitar playing is pretty shreddingly legit, and the beats make a nice nod to the horns and rhythm of the iconic Dragnet theme song. Additionally, it makes use of a lyrical device I have applauded previously in this column, which is to essentially just use the song as a means of reiterating major plot points from the film.
Hanks’ “rapping” is basically yelling, however, and “cringe-worthy” might be a bit kind.
“City of Crime” was included on the motion picture soundtrack (right after the Patty LaBelle cut, “Just the Facts”), and was commercially released as a 7-inch single. You can pick it up for next to nothing (hell, the sealed complete soundtrack only cost me $5), and if you’re a nostalgic soundtrack nerd who wants to liven up their next party, get on it. Hell, even Hanks isn’t that embarrassed by it, as this absolutely delightful clip from the Graham Norton Show demonstrates — as well as revealing who choreographed that dance.