There is a little discrepancy between the Internet Movie Data Base and Box Office Mojo, as to when this film opened. IMDB lists it as June 8, but Box Office Mojo has the first weekend results coming in on June 22. I believe the Mojo has the right date but since I posted my original list based IMDB, I’ll stick to it and put this post up the same weekend that Gremlins and Ghostbusters opened. It was clearly a busy June whatever the actual date was.
If you grew up watching movies in the 1980s, you know the product of the ZAZ cooperative. David and Jerry Zucker and their friend Jim Abrams, wrote, produced, and directed together and separately a bucketload of comedies aimed at the juvenile in all of us. Their first film, “The Kentucky Fried Movie “ was based on their theater college group and was directed by John Landis (It is also the first movie I blogged on for my original movie project). Their follow up was”Airplane!”, pound for pound, the funniest movie ever made. It had more jokes per minute and more of those jokes hit than even a Mel Brooks film. Their films have a lot to laugh about but they suffer from feeling like a parody pastiche rather than being complete stories. “Airplane II: The Sequel” was not their movie. “Top Secret!” was their next film and it had their trademark humor but also an unfocused story that makes it feel like what it really is, a series of sketches. “Airplane!” is clearly a parody of disaster flicks and in particular “Zero Hour” which it followed very closely. “Top Secret!” is a little bit of a spy film,an Elvis movie, and a Cold War drama. The East Germans are sometimes Nazi like, there is a resistance movement that gets mixed in with rock concerts and parodies of “The Blue Lagoon” are right next to take offs of “Casablanca”. “Top Secret” is also the starring debut of Val Kilmer. He sings and dances and mugs for the camera in a way that makes it clear he is a big talent. Sometimes he gets a little lost among the shenanigans.
This weekend I saw the Seth Macfarlane movie, “A Million Ways to Die In the West” and it is clear that poop jokes and anal sex are going to be the subject of humor for a long time to come. If Macfarlane had looked at this movie, he might have noticed that many of the punchlines of his current work have been used for at least thirty years. “Top Secret!” manages to get a laugh from dog crap without subjecting us to a visual image, a result that might have made the gross out western a little less annoying. Still, sex jokes about gay rape and penis size appear to be something that idiots like me appreciate when we are young, so it is hard to fault Seth.
Some of the references are probably a little dated which explains why the movie will be appreciated by those who remember the time period but maybe less so from younger audiences. There is a Pac man visual joke, a reference to Freddy Laker, a long section that parodies a Brooke Shields movie from 1980, and a joke about escaping from America during the Carter Administration.
There are dozens of things to laugh at and visually, there is more than a joke a minute. This movie keeps throwing them and a lot of them hit. There are two scenes that I want to note especially for their creativity and/or silliness. Peter Cushing is in this movie. He plays a contact with the underground who owns a Swedish Bookshop (who knows?). He only appears in once scene and it is the weirdest bit in the movie. He has lines but they are all spoken backwards. That’s because the whole sequence is played in reverse and all the characters sound Swedish by running the film clip in reverse, I guess. There are some fun effects that occur because the section is shown that way and it took some planning to make it look so cool. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the one big visual gag that Cushing has, just keep an eye out for it.
The other scene that amuses me, mostly because of the boots, is the infiltration of the prison by two resistance fighters disguised as a cow. Yes it is stupid, welcome to the world of ZAZ, but it is also funny and instead of the fart jokes that usually come with a bit like this, there are two sex jokes. One is utterly ridiculous, and the other continues the long established anal sex motif found in movies of this variety. There was a similar sequence in “Trading Places” a couple of years before. That’s the problem when your disguise is so good it can fool even other animals. The biggest virtue of the film is the star making appearance of Mr. Val Kilmer. Ten years before he plays Doc Holiday in “Tombstone”, he was Nick Rivers, American Rock and Roll Goodwill Ambassador. Kilmer gets to sing and show off his dance freak in almost every other scene in the movie. He has put on some weight in the last few years, most of us do as we get older, but check him out in 1984. He was a good enough actor to avoid being stuck with the Cories in Teen Beat Land. There is nothing Earth shattering in the movie. It was not a hit but I think it has a cult following and deserves to be seen. The best way to judge a comedy is to ask did you laugh and how much? Well I laughed a lot when watching this thirty year old film that I know I must have seen a dozen times or so. It had been a few years since I last saw it. In fact, before this week, I last watched it on a cropped laser disc before my player gave up the ghost, so it had to be five years at least. As an Amazon Prime member, I have access to a lot of streaming movies and this one I watched twice because it was free. Everyone knows it’s not great art, there is even a fourth wall break to remind us of that. Still it is very enjoyable and you could do worse (As “A Million Ways to Die in the West” proves).
Nick Rivers: Listen to me, Hillary. I’m not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist, only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island, who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.
Hillary Flammond: I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.