Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Secret! (1984)


Directors: Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker

Netflix Instant Watch? Yup.

Boy am I glad that my wife has just enough appreciation for goofy humor to sit through this one with me. I hadn't watched it in over 15 years, and she had never seen it.

90 minutes well-spent.

The Zucker brothers movies don't really require much explanation. If you've seen Airplane!, any of the Naked Gun series, or Kentucky Fried Movie, then you know what these guys are all about. You also know whether you like them or not. Top Secret! is no exception.

I think fewer people are familiar with this movie since it wasn't quite the hit that Airplane! or The Naked Gun were. I'm not completely sure why, though perhaps it was due to the musical numbers. For those who haven't seen it, Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, an Elvis-type rocker who goes to East Germany  to perform (this was in 1984, after all, so that was still fertile ground for storytelling). Sprinkled through the film are nearly a half dozen parodies of popular rock tunes from the 50s and 60s. They're chuckle-worthy since they do have some goofy lyrics and funny little sight-gags, like Rivers pantomiming morbidly realistic suicide scenarios while singing a cheesy love song. But mostly these song and dance numbers just drag a bit.

As with all of their movies, every element of the medium is
fair game for for a gag. Case in point - warping perspective
to have a dead-serious Nazi answer a ridiculously
massive telephone. Some of these visual jokes 

are easy to miss, but hilarious if you can catch them.
These aside, the movie's hilarious. Just as with all of their very best movies, the Zuckers and Abrahams made damn sure that the actors all played everything completely dead pan. This, of course, is the lifeblood of goofy comedy. Once it gets too kinetic or slapstick, the routines get very old very quickly. But when you have a stone-faced East German general stoically making dildo references, it's comedy gold.

In keeping with their strength of spoofing time-tested, formulaic genres, the Zuckers and Abrahams go after the classic popular spy movie. The great thing about these is that there is a clear love and eye for detail for the very genres that they're drawing so heavily from. It's only because we know how serious it's supposed to be when two spies are engaged in a clandestine meeting that it becomes hilarious when one of them gives the other an exploding cigar, acting just as serious through the entire ridiculous exercise. And just like any director of a good James Bond flick, the Zuckers and Abrahams always know what marks they're supposed to hit.

If you've never seen it and enjoy really goofy humor, or if you just haven't watched this one in a while, fire it up. It's a treat.