Top Secret
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Top Secret

The spoof is a special subset of the comedy genre. For many it is like pizza; even if it is not particularly good it is still fin to have. Unlike other forms of comedy this variation depends on the audience understanding the references that the jokes are the basis for the jokes. This can put an expiration date on many satires since the trends referenced are prone to go out of style and be forgotten by the viewers. In the case of the 1984 movie ‘Top Secret’ there is more in the way of staying power. For one thing the subjects of the parodies have themselves become part of our popular cultural and endure. This allows subsequent generations to get the humor and have a good laugh. The flick may make references to things like the ‘Pac Man’ video game but even in this day and age where video games have taken on the leading edge of technology we all remember that hungry circle with the enormous appetite. ‘Top Secret’ is a send up of the war film and that genre has such a firm set of rules and format that the comedy here lasts through the quarter of a century since its initial release. This is a case where the cast and crew set out to make a little movie that will bring the audience a few laughs. What they wound up doing was crafting a comedy classic. I laughed as loud and as long watching this new DVD release as I did the first time I saw this film almost twenty five ago. I even plan on getting a copy for my daughter who was born the year this film was made. I won’t loan her my copy since I am certain that once she sees it she will refuse to give it back and I want to make sure this is a part of my collection for keeps. For a couple of years now Paramount has been digging through their massive catalog of films from the eighties. This was a pivotal decade not only for movies but one that was life changing for most of us alive today. What they came up with is a series of DVD releases called ‘I Love the Eighties’ and after reviewing most of them I have to say this is one great collection of flicks. The movie is rated PG which would indicate that it is family friendly. To some extent that is true but younger members of the family might not get most of the jokes. Still, there is enough in the way of sight gags and general silliness to keep everybody in stitches.

I usually have some reservations when a movie is written and directed by a team. It typically means that there will be evidence of conflict in styles and some behind the scenes bickering that adversely affects the quality of the production. Fortunately in this case the team involved is one of the best the world of movie comedies have ever seen; David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. These three men changed the landscape of comedy flicks forever with their initial foray into movies ‘Airplane’. They have gone on to highly successful individual efforts over the years but the true genius they possessed is when they combined their efforts. There is a synergy present in these cases that is simply magical. They work both as writers and directors seamlessly in a unison that holds the wackiness of this film together. These three men pull from every pop culture source available to them at the time. There are references to everything from old horror flicks to beloved films like ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Such a mixture would have been disastrous in less able hands but these people get it done with a comic style that has often been imitated but never matched. There is little in the way of an actual story line here; just a loose direction to provide a foundation fro the rapid fire and constant jokes and gags. A popular American singer, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) goes to East Germany to perform. There he meets up with a resistance movement including a beautiful young woman, Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge). She implores Mick to help her rescue her father, Dr. Paul Flammond (Michael Gough). He is a noted scientist being forced by the government to make the deadly Polaris mine. That’s about it as far as the story goes. What is important here is the way the cast and crew keep the jokes flying at you. If you find one you don’t like just wait a second and another will be right there.

As directors these three men casually toss aside every conventional technique in the playbook. This is almost free association in its style like a child with problems focusing his attention. They move from scene to scene with little regard to anything other than the all important laugh. One famous scene in this movie was presented in reverse and the thing is it appears to make sense in both directions. That bit features one of he legends of the old Hammer horror flicks and original Star Wars, Peter Cushing. I never realized that he had such a command of comedy. Typical of the style for the Zuckers and Abrahams much of the humor is contained in sight gags that are sprinkled throughout the peripherals. Like most of their films I have seen this one a lot and still after all these years pick up something that went previously unnoticed. It is almost impossible to describe most of the gags present here; you just have to experience them for yourself. This is a silly movie that took an immense amount of talent to pull off. It may seem easy to act stupid but to do so in the fashion here require a huge amount of imagination and comic ability. This was the film that launched the long and illustrious career of Kilmer. He did his own singing and dancing in it displaying the many facets of his talent. This movie may have spoofed pop culture but by doing it so well it became a lasting part of that culture. You might have to explain some of the things here to younger viewers. There is no longer an Iron Curtain, for example, but the humor rises above such temporal restrictions and remains timeless.

The people over at Paramount who make the decision as to which films are included in this ‘I Love the Eighties’ series certainly know their movies and the decade. The eighties were a rough time for many in this country. While the war in Vietnam was over the country was experiencing some financial up heavily and the current generation seemed unfocused by their predecessors. Flicks like this helped us forget the world for a little while and escape from reality. Now, with the world in such a mess a movie like this is just what is needed most. This is more than nostalgia it is something whose tone and mood are in dire need. Get this one, gather the family around and have a lot of laughs.

Posted 01/24/09

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