TOP SECRET! (director/writer: Jim Abrahams/David Zucker/Jerry Zucker; screenwriter: Martyn Burke; cinematographers: Jack Lowin/Christopher G. Challis; editor: Bernard Gribble; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Val Kilmer (Nick Rivers), Lucy Gutteridge (Hillary Framond), Christopher Villiers (Nigel), Omar Sharif (Cedric), General Streck (Jeremy Kemp),Peter Cushing (Bookstore Owner), Warren Clarke (Colonel Von Horst), Michael Gough (Dr. Paul Flammond), Billy J. Mitchell (Martin, Nick’s manager), Jim Carter (Déjà Vu, Resistance Member), Eddie Tagoe (Chocolate Mousse, Resistance Member), Richard Mayes (Comrade Biletnikov, Russian Tenor); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Hunt Lowry/Frederick Zollo/Jim Abrahams/David Zucker/Jerry Zucker; Paramount Home Entertainment; 1984)
“I found its spirited irreverence to be refreshing.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The silly homage spoof on WW II espionage films and Elvis flicks, with seemingly a thousand low-brow gags and puns (that range from raunchy anal dildo jokes to clever political ones about Ronald Reagan), was breezily directed by the trio of Wisconsin childhood friends Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and his younger brother Jerry Zucker (“Airplane!”).The filmmakers would do anything to get a laugh, even if it meant reaching for jokes that had nothing to do with the storyline. The many films parodied range from The Blue Lagoon to Casablanca. It marksVal Kilmer’s screen debut, whose charismatic performance steals the pic by setting the tone for its goofy sendoff. A few of the gags work really well, but too many miss the mark. Overall the amiable comedy is effective, except the familiar banal plot gets too murky and gets in the way of the rapid-fire jokes to put a slight damper on the broad slapstick routines.
Some East German big shot government fascists, headed by General Streck (Jeremy Kemp), plot to reunite Germany under their leadership some time in the 1950s by a secret strike to bottle up the United States fleet during a cultural festival in East Berlin. The Elvis-like American teen rock-and-roll star, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer), is invited to perform on his goodwill tour behind the Iron Curtain when Leonard Bernstein cancels. The Commie fascists figure the world will take their eyes off them to report only on the festival, as they coincide their attack on the day of the festival. Don’t ask what happens with that storyline, as the filmmakers seemed to forget about resolving that while bringing on a prison escape film.
Nick meets in a fancy restaurant the pretty French resistance fighter named Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge), who is on the lookout to make contact with British agent Cedric (Omar Sharif), an escapee from the East Germans. He’s expected to help her imprisoned scientist father, Dr. Flammond (Michael Gough), escape from the East Germans. The Reds imprisoned the free-thinking genius scientist and forced him to turn over to them the secret weapon he created, or else face execution.
The lovebird couple team up with the French underground fighters headed by Nigel (Christopher Villier), the long lost childhood lover of Hillary who was marooned on an island with her before disappearing. Nigel’s someone she thought had died, and she’s now confused because she loves the Elvis clone and only likes Nigel because she believes they’re fighting for the same cause.
All the action scenes are constantly interrupted to make way for rock ‘n’ roll numbers that include a Beach Boys parody entitled “Skeet Surfing” and Kilmer performing his versions of “Tutti Frutti” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
None of it makes too much sense, but it’s energetic, the cast seems to be enjoying themselves, it was goofy fun to see only the head of Omar Sharif who was squashed in a Mercedes Benz that was compacted at a junkyard; and, it’s hard to resist a joke about a political refugee who fled America by balloon during the Carter administration and the one about the moron East German torturer who gets all his information from the New York Post.
Top Secret! failed to measure up to the commercial success of Airplane!, as it seemed to stray too much on the wacky side in its slapstick bits to hit an ongoing momentum and the storyline seemed like only an afterthought. But it had a Marx Brothers-like anarchist’s absurdity that was irresistible, and I found its spirited irreverence to be refreshing.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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