This time Zucker and Abrams are spoofing, most notably, Elvis films and WWII spy movies. Val Kilmer stars as Nick Rivers, a handsome American 50s-style rock and roll singer. While performing in East Germany, he falls in love with a beautiful heroine and becomes involved with the French Resistance. Written by
Hilarious From A like Abrahams to Z like Zucker ...
Following the popular success of "Airplane!" and its less acclaimed sequel, the ZAZ trio was back to what I believe to be the funniest comedy ever: "Top Secret!" a hilarious parody of the WWII spy films and the 50-60's rock-themed movies. Speaking of rock'n'roll, one of the most defining songs of the film performed by Val Kilmer aka Nick Rivers is titled "How Silly Can you Get?" which sounds like a self-reflexive motto.
"Top Secret!" probably features the highest laughs-out-loud-per-minute ratio from any movie, as there is not one single moment where the action isn't punctuated by a gag, and that this very gag doesn't work. Everything in "Top Secret!" is both hilarious on an anarchic and cathartic level in the way it plunges you into a never-ending positive mindset. You may say that this is the very principle of a comedy, what's more a spoof movie, but it seems like "Top Secret!" has been specially concocted for pure and genuine amusement, and while the much more respected "Airplane!" has its slower moments, especially during the flash-back parts, "Top Secret!" was hilarious from A like Abrahams to Z like Zucker brothers.
There are two kinds of gags in "Top Secret!", the direct and the indirect one. The direct is immediate, mostly visual and slapstick, like a "find him and kill him" stamp or a sunbathing girl leaving boob-holes in the sand. The best gags are extended and feature a lot of dancing like the ball scene, the outrageous ballet sequence or a feet-view panic scene. Anyway, whether it's an offensive national anthem, a singing horse, a little German, an over-hilarious moment when Nick is about to be executed and an old lady slowly approaches to pick up the phone, any attempt to list the audio-visual gags of the film is as ludicrous as trying to define which is the funniest. The indirect gag is the elaborated one, already funny by itself but leading to a much more delightful punch-line.
The first one involves a weird shot illustrating the road taken by Nick Rivers and his manager, the map looks more and more familiar until Pac-Man makes his appearance, the very gag that sets the tone of the film. When Omar Sharif as Agent Cedric meets a colleague disguised as a party tricks vendor, the whole interaction is funny enough but the icing on the cake comes with the "You dropped your phony dog pooh", an item which obviously is not sold. The gag works even more because we expect it, like when Nick is introduced to the French Resistance, what would you expect from a man named "Déjà Vu" apart from "Have we not met before?" It could have concluded here yet the French sounding names punch-line was with the black guy named 'Chocolate Mousse", which says a lot about an era where anything was acceptable in the name of pure comedy.
I don't mean to be too analytical, but my regard for "Top Secret!" is due to one of the two funniest and creative gags from any film, starting with the Swedish bookstore sequence, a cinematic achievement that would have made Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin proud. During that part, there is a gradual suspicion that we're not watching a normal scene, even for a spoof movie, there is something weird in the walking and the talking that gets funnier as it is more noticeable, the scene becomes hilarious when we get the point and yet it goes on and on, a book getting in the right place immediately, dust from ear to mouth, and finally Nick and Hillary 'sliding up' a pole. The sequence goes from funny to not funny anymore until it becomes funny again with the throw away gag of the puppy going backwards leaving the Swedish bookstore owner in a priceless doubted expression.
The other and maybe more memorable one, as it made it in the poster involves a clever cow disguise that looks like a real cow from our point of view, it's simple but someone should have thought about that. Now, it became a comedic landmark used in many comedies when a guy disguise as an animal, inopportunely choosing the female one, and invites a male on heat to come on him, but back then it was new that even pushed the outrageousness by involving a little veal thirsty for milk, the villain's reaction (in the disguise) is a laugh-riot. That's the secret of "Top Secret!", a comedy that doesn't take itself seriously except for its genuine desire to make us laugh. The rest of the gags are as good as it gets, and features many fourth-wall breaking, like when Nick and Hillary feels that the romance "makes it's like a bad movie" and then they look at us, and many film references are made, notably one hilarious climax in a sub-aquatic Western bar, and a clever farewell a la "Wizard of Oz".
"Top Secret!" is made in such a way, that we either enjoy a gag or wait for one to come, so there's no time break. The only little pauses are provided by these moments when we can enjoy Val Kilmer's musical performances but the humor is never away. But my enjoyment of the film is proportional to my sadness to see it so often overlooked by the peers and movie viewers, playing on anagrams, I want to say that "TOP SECRET!" is a comedy "TO RESPECT!". Indeed, when I checked the list of AFI's Top 100 Laughs, I was surprised not to see "Top Secret!" listed while "Fargo" and "Jerry Maguire" and less 'lol'ling comedies were, I'm even surprised that the film is hardly mentioned among the greatest parodies or that it didn't have any nominations for the Golden Globes.
Seriously, I can't see, regarding "Top Secret!", how funnier can a movie get.
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