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10 Terrible TV and Movie Detectives

Photo: Universal Pictures

Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice hit the big screen last weekend and tells the tale of a particularly crap (and perpetually stoned) gumshoe named Larry “Doc” Sportello who is roped into a missing-person case by his ex-girlfriend. Sportello’s clumsiness certainly isn’t unprecedented. Here’s a look back at ten other hopeless movie and TV detectives whose methods of deduction could leave a game of Guess Who? permanently unwon.

10. Dick Steele, Spy Hard (1996)
If detectives are designed to play it cool, Secret Agent Dick Steele (Leslie Nielsen) made for one tepid exception. People rightfully had their doubts when a task as simple as Steele hanging his hat came with its own complications.

9. James Carter, Rush Hour (1998)
When FBI Agent James Carter (Chris Tucker) was in his element, he was a force to be reckoned with. But upon getting caught up in the case of a Chinese diplomat’s kidnapped daughter, Carter struggled to keep up, especially with the sophisticated martial arts that became part of the mission.

8. Morton Schmidt and Gregory Jenko, 21 Jump Street (2012)
The young bike patrollers in this movie reboot of the ‘80s TV show (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) had a clear mission: inconspicuously pose as high-school students and trace the source of a new designer drug that was hot among teens. The pair was about as subtle as the storming of Normandy.

7. Lieutenant Jim Dangle, Reno 911
Though the 5-0 is supposed to offer a community protection, the Nevada town’s populace was often safer when Dangle (Thomas Lennon) was off-duty. Plus, those shorts.

6. Shaggy, Scooby Doo
When your own reefer cloud could give a small township the munchies, it might be wise to consider a less demanding career path.

5. Danny Butterman, Hot Fuzz (2007)
Sanford Police Department’s most eager recruit, played by Nick Frost, dreamed of a life that spilled over with action and adventure, but when the time for guile actually came, he proved to be less useful than an inkless pen.

4. The child contestants on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
That slinky, globe-trotting thief is still at large …

3. Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun (1998)
James Bond might have a license to kill, but at least he can account for those he’s left dead. Drebin, played by Leslie Nielsen, might unwittingly mow down dozens without being any the wiser.

2. Inspector Jacques Clouseau, The Pink Panther (1963)
Left to his own wits, La Sûreté’s most untrustworthy hire could have sooner caught a cold than a crook, but somehow, this embarrassment of an investigator accidentally solved crime after crime, even though he once shot a fellow officer en route.

1. Inspector John Gadget, Inspector Gadget (1999)
The cartoon cyborg had more gadgets than a Brookstone outlet, but none could compensate for his brutal incompetence. Thankfully, Gadget’s niece Penny and his dog Brain were by his side to pick up the miles of slack and solve Chief Waldo Quimby’s many cases.

10 Terrible TV and Movie Detectives