Directed by Jim Abrahams. US. 1984. Ages 12+. 1 hour 30 minutes. Paramount. Digital.
Sat., April 14, 2018
“Top Secret! never achieved the popularity of the Airplane!, Hot Shots!, or Police Squad!series, but the rock ‘n’ roll spy spoof may be the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team’s most consistent work. The trio’s semi-revolutionary 1980 hit Airplane! owes its reputation to a barrage of gags so relentless and shameless that they don’t all have to hit their target, or even have anything to do with the story, the characters, or the genre they’re sending up. Top Secret! replaces the scattershot-parody approach with a more precise re-creation of the dopey simplicity of WWII romances and Elvis pictures. A ridiculously charismatic Val Kilmer, in his first big-screen role, plays a touring pop idol recruited to bust up communism during a stop in East Germany. Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, and Lucy Gutteridge pop up as allies. Because the film was made in 1984, Top Secret! is sprinkled with jokes about Pac-Man and Ronald Reagan, as well as raunchy gags about anal dildos and oversized penises which are surprisingly frank for a PG-rated movie (in the days prior to PG-13), yet still retain a gentle tone light years away from the ugly likes of Scary Movie. Most of all, Top Secret! demonstrates a playfulness which Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker have indulged before and since, but never with such Jacques Tati-like whimsy: It’s not enough for the filmmakers to have a station pull away from a train; they also throw in a man running to catch a tree zooming off in the opposite direction. That lithe physical comedy also surfaces in Kilmer, who sells the song-and-dance routines with his nimble, energetic hoofing, and who goes broad in a surreal underwater bar fight with no loss of dignity. The DVD edition of Top Secret!adds a handful of deleted scenes and a commentary track by the filmmakers, who audibly wince at what they consider their movie’s slow pace and overreliance on obscure source material. The candor is refreshing, but Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker are off-base when they grumble that Top Secret! flopped in part because it was released in the summer. With its upbeat music, breezy attitude, and casual sexuality, Top Secret! has the knowing innocence of a beach party. It’s the embodiment of a summer movie.” (Noel Murray, The AV Club)